Book Review — Encounters Of A Fat Bride by Samah Visaria

Thank you Penguin Random House for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

Image courtesy of Goodreads

Encounters of a Fat Bride unveils the humiliation and harsh circumstances that an overweight woman has to undergo in order to find a groom in India. Madhurima Pandey has learnt to set aside her complex about feeling like the quintessential DUFF (Designated Ugly Fat Friend). While all her friends find fairytale-esque romances, Madhu has devoted her time to work and study, so as to steer clear of the reality that no man in his right mind would ever choose her. But as per societal norms, marriage is the most essential rite of initiation into adulthood. And soon, her middle class family begins to invite a bevy of eligible men in the hopes that one of them would accept Madhu into their household. Samah Visaria’s novel aptly reflects the age-old customs of dowry and arranged marriage, complete with nosy neighbors and body-shaming parents of potential grooms.

It should be noted that some people may view this novel as being offensive, but I assure you that it is not. The author, in no way, propagates discriminating against “fat” brides. She is merely trying to convey to the audience that women should be confident regardless of their physical appearances.

As lighthearted as this book is, it also approaches some very serious issues like that of fat-shaming, mental health disorder, the dowry system (wherein the family of the bride compensates the groom’s family in cash or kind for going ahead with the marriage) and gender bias. While a lot of these issues are dealt with rationally, I wasn’t comfortable with the way mental health disorders were handled. You begin to think that Madhu is a very mature and educated woman, but then her sidelining of mental instability as “retarded” or “losing it” is totally not acceptable. On the other hand, through Madhu’s strength of character, we see how other negative elements are treated strictly. Her acceptance of her body image and understanding that all genders ought to be equal attempts to remove society’s misconceptions.

What’s unique is that the chapter titles feature a countdown; so you are made aware of the ending but you don’t know how that transpires. See, there’s some mystery in there too. The author’s writing style is colloquial, humorous and incorporates few Hindi terms. There are a couple of cliches, but nothing major. She makes several references to the movie industry, juxtaposing Madhu’s behavior and feelings which made light of the situation at hand. The narration is so convincing that I’d feel just as infuriated at society as Madhu does. I mean, it is appalling that people expect you to be a certain way and if you aren’t, they rain down the most horrible comments on you. I really liked the plot because it is still so relevant. Some aspects of the story were a little over the top, but you can’t expect anything less from a dramatic character like Madhu. Her character arc sees quite a change throughout the novel. Initially, she is against the idea of arrange marriage, then tired of being lonely, she begins to crave it. Even her outlook undergoes certain essential changes. Without a doubt, Madhu’s funny quips renders the entire novel so enjoyable that I finished it in one sitting. I liked the book and I look forward to anything else the author may write in the future. You should check it out!

Ratings – 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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What We’ve Learned From 13 Reasons Why

13 Reasons Why, a book to television adaptation of Jay Asher’s young adult fiction, posits the transience of life and growing insensitivity among millennials. It is abundantly interspersed with prevalent concerns pertaining to suicide, sexual abuse, slut shaming, social isolation, peer pressure and so much more. Hannah Baker’s narration, of the events in her life that led her to take the plunge, is gut-wrenching to say the least. All of what she experiences brings to light exactly what’s wrong with the human mentality. Our inability to empathize, to value another person as an equal, to look beyond materialism, to take responsibility for our actions is our one-way ticket to a devastating future. Here are some reasons, drawing from the TV series, that call for a drastic change in our perceptions and the way we interact with one another:

  1. Live and Let Live. You are the master of ONLY your life. You DO NOT get to enforce your opinions on another. This includes, but is not limited to, judging, commenting on and mocking another person for the way they choose to carry themselves. Slut shaming is a serious affront. Somebody else’s personal decisions are none of your business. We see first hand, in the TV show, how rumors can snowball into becoming the most fallacious statements about a person’s character. Alex’s list that objectifies women is in a way the kick-starter of Hannah’s depression. The aftermath is truly appalling.
  2. Suicide Should Not be an Option. You may be in the worst possible situation, but remember, the sun brings with it a new start every day. Press the Reset button and Do Over. There is so much to live for, the least of which is yourself and who you could be in 40 years. Hannah’s decision to end her life is fueled by many incidents which make her want “everything to stop”. But even in the harshest of storms, it is upto us to cling onto the last thread for however long it takes. We owe ourselves that.
  3. High School Hierarchies are Bullshit. No amount of wealth can make you personally inferior in comparison to another high school student. It is a place for character formation and identifying your passions. Do not let it be reduced to cringe-worthy memories of bullying and succumbing to peer standards. Stand up for yourself and for others. Justin, Bryce, Marcus, Zach and the others parade around Liberty High by terrorizing others. Evidently, school hierarchies tend to place athletes at a higher pedestal, allowing them to demean the rest of the student population. It begets the questions, What about the morals being preached in school? Why are the powerful not answerable to law? What can be done to change that?
  4. Convenience. The pain of being someone’s convenience is starkly reflected in the episodes. Ryan publishes Hannah’s poetry in his magazine, despite being told otherwise. Bryce is of the opinion that every woman is for the taking. Sheri tries to cover up her misdeed, simply because no one of authority witnesses the accident. All of their actions, not only points to the deficiency in their upbringing, but also the skewed world view that they’ve developed, which calls for some serious attention. Keep your ground, and do not let anyone take advantage of you. Your consent is not up for bargain.

The back and forth structuring of the plot keeps us glued to Hannah’s story; as with every tape she delicately delineates the turmoil of feeling like an outsider. It has all been so realistically portrayed and the soundtrack is the final straw that leads to a whole lot of tears. Undoubtedly, some of the characters don’t intend to harm Hannah, but it is their negligence that drives a wedge between her resilience and despondence.

One other thing that infuriated me the most is the lack of parental guidance. None of the parents in the show actually make a difference. Clay’s parents keep making futile attempts to resolve matters, but it’s no good. Even the teachers, principal and the counselor are totally useless. Their greed, thoughtlessness and refusal to take action paves the way for the continued corruption of the students. Between the poetry classes, helping out at home and visiting the school counselor, we see how much effort Hannah is putting in to hang on. But… I wish people had better morals. The story of Hannah Baker, although fictitious, could be the case with many other youngsters. No one should have to feel so utterly purposeless. No one.

Final Thoughts – The ending of the show is ambiguous. While the main theme is laid to rest, quite a few questions still remain. Nevertheless, it makes for a brilliant, thought provoking TV series. One that I binge-watched simply because of its quality execution.

Rating – 5 stars on 5.

Look Around, Pay More Attention. Every drop makes an ocean and each of us can contribute towards making this world a happier place!

A Volatile World

Image courtesy – Google.

It’s a volatile world,
The very foundation sizzles.
Crackling like a witch’s brew,
Waiting to be stirred.
Rearing its bigoted head,
Surveying the great potential
For a divide & rule.
How easy it must seem,
To create a spark
And prod it so?
To lay waste, all differences?
It seethes and sputters
With a callousness so dire
That it reduces to dust
All else by a breath of fire.
It croons to sleep, a city
Of unsuspecting folks.
While the lava slithers down
And incinerates them all.
Many wars and many failures later,
What remains of this world?
Ignorance & arrogance to say the least.

– Meera

Book Review — The Pearl by John Steinbeck

“It is not good to want a thing too much. It sometimes drives the luck away. You must want it just enough, and you must be very tactful with the Gods.” – John Steinbeck, The Pearl

Kino, a Mexican diver is the protagonist of the novel who being subjected to social injustice, comes to learn the repercussions of greed and foolhardy behavior. His aspirations are big but means are limited and so he is left to wonder what future beholds for his family. When his son Coyotito falls ill and the town doctor refuses to treat him, Kino and his wife Juana look to pearl mining to solve their problems. As chance would have it, Kino comes in possession of The Pearl of the World – a rather chunky pearl meant to shower riches upon the family. But at a time when wealth and power bred frauds of the worst kind, the family only encounters more fallaciousness every step of the way.  As readers, we witness an individual’s struggle not only against an apathetic society but a grapple with oneself to not let the inner demons reign.

Image Courtesy – Goodreads.

I was a little apprehensive picking up a John Steinbeck book. Would I be able to grasp it? Will the content be interesting and not puzzling? I always have these questions when reading literary texts. And much to my surprise, Steinbeck’s writing style is direct and easy to get into. No overuse of imageries or overwhelming content. He weaves a story, uplifting a character from the lower section of society and helps us to understand how greed and ambition can change the mien of a person. We get a sense of Kino and Juana’s simple lifestyle from their attire to their meager corn-cake meals to their bare minimum household. Their people are demeaned by the upper caste in society and despite having some money to provide for the services of the doctor, they are turned down simply for belonging to the lower caste. But when they find the pearl, everyone suddenly becomes so amiable and generous towards the family.

Kino’s character, though very fierce and protective of his family, is a bit proud and unthinking. He doesn’t understand Juana’s POV and takes rash measures at times. If only he hadn’t done certain things, maybe they wouldn’t have had to flee. Juana is a commendably strong character. Not only does she stick with her husband throughout, despite his brashness, but also displays a clarity of thought and action, astounding in association to the situation. Throughout the novel, we grow to empathize with Kino and Juana as they are undoubtedly pushed to extremes by the insolence of several beings. Steinbeck mixes the concept of music with feeling to establish the atmosphere. I found that idea to be splendid and the Song of the Family is something we all can hum to. This book is a quick, touching read that throws light on the plight of divers in 20th century Mexico. The ending was a bit disturbing but apart from that, I enjoyed it thoroughly. I recommend it to everyone who loves reading.

Ratings – 4 stars on 5.

Meera

Actually Indian?

Image Courtesy – Google. No claims of ownership.

Gone are the times when grandmother’s tales and Doordarshan were the quintessential depictions of Indian sensibilities. Now people look forward to Bollywood and news channels to discover the new qualities of an Indian. And why not? Media is supposed to represent our society. So if the big screen tells you that an Indian dons sarees, you do it! But how much of this media representation stands affirmative? Does anyone bother tracing back the origins of some of these nonsensical expectations?

A certain cement ad features very fashionably made up men and women carrying cement sacks and working at a construction site. Is this the image our construction workers send across? They work hard hours trying to ensure two meals for their family and themselves. They don’t get the freedom of expression (through their attire or otherwise) that others do. But this ad, despite being about engineering, chooses to focus on these modelesque people as they swagger back and forth in flowing gowns and buffed up bodies.  If only these worker’s profession was viewed in the magnificent light as portrayed by the advertisement.

Moreover, who gets to decide where Indianness ends and Western cognitions begin? The saas-bahu TV shows? Or the individuals who blame indecent attire for atrocities committed? I could be wearing shorts throughout the year and still be very Indian in my thoughts, mannerisms. There are people who sensationalize “item” songs and scrunch up their nose at the sight of a couple being overly affectionate in public. In fact, scrunching their nose is the least they could do; one has to be grateful for not being beaten up by random strangers for acting “out of line” and “not Indian”.

Don’t shun people for living their lives in a happy bubble. Don’t drag out and arrest couples from private rooms in hotels for wanting to be together. In fact don’t arrest people for wanting to have a say about their country or their culture. It would be nice if media representations of an Indian focused on what an Indian actually goes through rather than highlight a paragraph that speaks a contradictory story. We don’t all run around in gowns in palatial houses trying to tease a guy/girl by the scent of our body soaps. Neither do we eat chocolate sloppily so that we get kissed by someone. Its understandable that advertisements try to capitalize on our desires to be modern and open minded. Money is of the essence. But why not do it by actually incorporating what India is today or who an Indian is today. We have progressed so much since the olden times. Why still try to compete with notions that are not really ours? And if we do wish to imbibe those notions, why fight against its manifestation in reality?

Think on it.

Cheers 🙂

– Meera