The Sanguinarian

The Sanguinarian

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Review- Double or Quits-Shilpa Gupta

Blurb: Racy, realistic and fast paced, Double or Quits traces Jyotsna Singh’s story against the backdrop of the treacherous stock markets. Losing her father at the age of 12 and brought up under frugal circumstances, Jyotsna grows up too soon. Nervy and edgy by nature, she morphs into a confident and charming young woman with a successful career in Investment Banking. Enter Aryan Sahani, rising corporate star and billionaire who wraps Jyotsna in his charms, but has plans of his own. Driven by her loyalty to the firm, a desire to break out of her lower middle class moorings and misplaced love, Jyotsna overreaches. She is soon faced with the dark side of the stock markets – a world where ambition, greed and fear rule and reputations are lost a lot faster than they are built. Will Jyotsna be able to resurrect her life? Will she find the true love she has been craving? Double or Quits is a tale of love, betrayal and courage. It is a tale about falling down, but not staying down. 

There are some books which WOW you from the moment you read the first few pages to when you have read the last page and closed the book. There are some books you enjoy reading, and then forget about within days. There are some books that disappoint you within the first few pages and you're like, I'm closing it and relegating it to the trash right now. 

Double or Quits falls on the better side of the spectrum. 

I wanted to read this book. Despite a lot of things which went wrong in the execution, I wanted to read the book and was eager to finish it. And I did. 
This is one of those books which gets some things right and some wrong. 

To begin with, Double or Quits is a story with great potential but faulty execution. 

The things this novel, set in the cut-throat corporate world, gets right: 
1. I liked Jyotsna a lot. She's my kinda gal- smart, strong, independent, tough and a go-getter. She's secure enough in her own worth as a person and doesn't need a man to validate her; but at the same time she knows how to appreciate genuine admiration when it comes her way. I also liked that she's liberated and puts her career first; and isn't a pushover whom society and family can manipulate into submission. 
2. I liked Jyo's broadminded mother and Grandma. Amazing women- what wouldn't one give to have such supportive, understanding and liberal parent and grandparent! 
3. I like the profusion of good food in this book. 
4. I loved Nitin's character too. He's my kinda male feminist. The way he stands with Jyo through the most difficult phases of her life is amazing. And of course, he's well rounded as a person- smart, driven, intelligent, successful and good looking.
5. I liked how Jyo, despite being in a situation where she had to bear punishment for mistakes she didn't make, makes the most of it, works her way through and comes through with flying colors. This is good characterization- putting your character through the meat grinder, testing their resilience and then making them rise from the ashes like a phoenix. 
6. The corporate world has been explained very well. I'm a scientist by profession, and have little or no idea of corporate world or terms, but Shilpa, having more than a decade's experience in Investment Banking herself, breaks down the world of major corporations for us, nicely depicting the high stakes, the politics and backstabbing and the adrenaline rush. It made it easier to understand the story. 
7. The plot is original and the story line is new and refreshing. No romantic nonsense. The suspense has been maintained well throughout. 
8. Aryan's character, as well as those of the other supporting characters, have been etched well.
9. I liked Sanchita and Richa's characters- supportive girlfriends women like Jyo need for much needed encouragement and support- and the equation of trust, love and bonhomie the three women share.

Now let me come to what this novel gets wrong: 

1. More telling and very less showing. This makes it difficult to visualize the scenes properly, or immerse myself completely in the story. There is narration instead of proper scenes. I mean I know that  the protagonists are having dinner or making love or engaged in a high-power corporate meeting, but there is no context, no emotional intelligence in the scene. The author, instead of zooming in on the scenes to help us connect with the story, has rather skimmed through, jumping from one scene to another within the same chapter and giving us only a glimpse. I wanted a lot of scenes.
2. The language fails to move me. Some stray lines and phrases stand out in brilliance, but otherwise the prose is clunky and refuses to flow. It's not that the language is pedestrian, or I was expecting a very high level of English. But it could still have been better- more taut and crisp. There are no grammatical mistakes as such, but still, something was missing here. 
3. The start could have been better. When I start reading something I want to see something major happening, something which already makes me apprehensive about what will happen next. That was missing here. For example, the build up could have been in a way that the protagonist has a presentation whose outcome is important for her, and she's apprehensive about how it will go. 
4. Jyotsna's character does things very anachronistic to her personality, at times. Why does she go out on a  date with Aryan the same evening he humiliates her in front of her colleagues? Why does she trust him so blindly with regard to business when she only has an affair with him? And Aryan keeps repeatedly insulting her and she still keeps going out with him. He continues to be evasive and secretive and she blindly continues to trust him. She goes on a vacation to Malaysia with him when they've barely started dating, and even sleeps with him without first knowing him well. All these are at sharp odds with her high self-esteem, cautious nature and low threshold for sexist crap. Why would she tolerate a sexist who constantly subjects her to gaslighting? I mean we all do stuff which is out of character, but this is just not done. 
5. Does anyone say 'Gosh' much these days? 
6. At places the author goes too overboard with corporate jargon. Now I understand that being a corporate woman herself, she has the instinct to talk in terms of Investment Banking and such. But that is where authors who create stories set in the world they themselves inhabit should be careful- to use enough technical terms to paint a credible picture of the character's profession, but not go overboard so non-corporate people find it boring. 

All in all, I praise Double and Quits for its maturity, originality of content, and that it doesn't waste time with over-the-top romantic drama. This book has a lot of important things to say, and at places it does that very well. At other places, though, it could have been written better. The author can do so much better- she shows promise and potential.

But I would still like to applaud this novel for making a difference, and for encapsulating the messages of women's emancipation that it does. 

And I wish Shilpa all the best for her next book.
Double or Quits

Give this book a try, I'd say. You can buy a copy here: 

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Review- Birds of Prey- Archana Sarat

Blurb: You wake up, parched and famished, at the bottom of a deep well—dark and dingy with the foul smell of excreta and rotting scars and no seeming way to escape—what do you do?
This is the predicament that ex-ACP Anton Pinto faces when he reluctantly joins the investigation into the mysterious disappearances of men from affluent families of Mumbai. There is an inexplicable pattern behind the abductions and all suspicions point towards an old, physically-challenged, mysterious lady. Soon, Anton discovers that the seemingly unrelated men have one common link—the most popular and expensive international school in Mumbai.
Following clues that span from schools and old-age homes to illegal dingy hospitals, Anton is led through a labyrinth of incest, abuse, torture and suffering, spanning decades. 
What secret does the school hide behind its gates? What was the undisclosed crime that is thirsty for justice? Will Anton be able to save the men? Will justice be served? 

First of all, let me congratulate Archana on getting her book out. I know Archana for nearly four years now and I can personally vouch for her competence and sophistication as a writer. I had the privilege of getting a signed copy from her in return for an honest review. 

Birds of Prey identifies as a crime thriller, and it lives up to its stated genre by employing all the tropes necessary for a police procedural- there's an ex-ACP, a serial killer, a criminal profiler, other cops, an officious and incompetent police force, an apathetic boss and colleagues etc. 

I finished this book in 2 sittings. First of all the book manages to hold the reader's attention and maintain the suspense, second of all it's written in simple language ( not pedestrian. Simple. There's a difference between the two!) 

Let me enumerate the points on which the book scores first: 

1. The suspense has been created and maintained very well. Readers like me, who are a sucker for crime novels, appreciate the feeling of nail-biting tension and apprehension...that feeling of what will happen next? 
2. The author portrays both the city Mumbai, where the book is set, and the life of a Tamil family in Mumbai, very well. 
3. The characters are well fleshed out- especially Anton and his wife Sheeba. The number of characters is less in the book so it's easy to keep up with who is whom. Every supporting character- from the stubborn boss to the quack who performs illegal abortions and his assistant, has been etched well.
4. The language is simple without being pedestrian. Anyone with a basic knowledge of English can understand this well. The author doesn't waver from the tenor of her language quality throughout, and that is appreciable. The prose is eloquent without being grandiose, and suits the potboiler character of the story well. So full marks to the author for that. 
5. The author has written the novel from both the protagonist and antagonist's POV. Again, this is appreciable. Crime novels usually stick to the trope of the villain being an out-and-out bad guy who doesn't deserve a back story or an empathetic hearing. But here, the antagonist has been portrayed amazingly well, without being glamorized. One wants the hero to win while also feeling for the bad guy who might not be so bad after all, just misguided and lonely; but their actions deserve no justification. 
6. The conflict has been created well. Anton and Sheeba's marital troubles, his going to help his ex-employer, the Mumbai police, despite their apathy towards him when he needed their support the most; his dilemma of going back to the job he loves or staying back with his family in Goa; Sheeba's (justified) objection to his returning to work for the police...this is all very relatable stuff. This happens with us lay folks all the time. And again, we feel for the characters. 
7. The plot is original and intriguing, and the story is something unique. 
8. The prologue in itself is gripping and taut. Again a good point for which author gets full marks. 
9. The issue of child abuse has been tackled well in this book.

Now for the points I feel should have been addressed in the book: 

1. Grammatical mistakes: At times they take away from the otherwise well-written prose. And also mar the high quality of language and prose. This is not the author's, but the editor's fault. Why didn't they iron out the inconsistencies? The author has worked hard on her craft and it shows. It's the editor's job to iron out the inconsistencies and make the writing error free. Small typos are no problem, but in a book of this caliber it is an issue.
2. The portrayal of the criminal profiler: Now I'm not saying that crime authors have to be experts in criminology. But the profiler could have used much more professional language and terminology. That matters in a crime novel, specially if it's written with a psychological POV. Even when the cops discuss about the murders being serial crimes, their analysis falls short of professional. Yes, in India, the concept of criminology or behavioral psychology hasn't taken root yet. Not among cops, especially. But here is where the author could have made a difference by doing some in-depth research on criminology and making the cops and profilers talk like professional experts. 
3. At places, there are odd turns of phrases. This is again the editor''s prerogative to notice and correct. At one place there is confusion between the names of victims. Again the editor's fault. 

All in all, Birds of Prey is a well-written, nicely plotted crime thriller. It will make you think about child abuse in India, about the effect it has on human beings, about how societal apathy adds to the entire vicious cycle. 
Go read this book if you need a breather from the Bhagats, Duttas and Singhs of literature in India. 

Birds of Prey

Friday, 4 November 2016

NaNo'16: Character Speak: Tony from The Devil's Whisper on A Bad Break-Up

Women. Are. Exhausting.

Call me an obnoxious sexist if you will. Accuse me of being a moron who generalizes about women, paints them all with the same damn brush. Because #NotAllWomen right?

But. Women are exhausting. And no one exemplifies exhausting women more than my ex, Sarah De Marco.

Before I start elaborating on the break-up itself, let me elaborate. I am a cop who, most days of the week, ends up working a 16 or 17 hour shift. By the time I come home I am so tired I can feel my bones rubbing together. I'm sapped of all energy after working a job that's as difficult as it's thankless.

The Relationship 

Sarah and I were in a relationship for six long years. She was a local marketing executive for a pharmaceutical MNC's Mumbai chapter. Which meant that she also worked for nearly 14 hours a day, and came home as tired as I was. It was almost like we came home only to sleep, falling asleep in each other's arms. We were as sapped of libido as of energy so we never did get in the mood for romance most days.

Sundays were mostly meant to sleep in but we used this one day we had to ourselves to sleep in and catch up on some long-pending lovemaking. Otherwise, sex was only accidental, like if we ran into each other in the shower or, while we cooked together, I opened the fridge and found two bottles of chocolate sauce instead of one. Or when I came home with a backache and she gave me a back rub to ease the tension ( which led to a different sort of tension).

I thought we were doing okay. The sex was good, we had our own circle of friends we often hung out with, we liked a lot of the same things: Books, movies in languages we couldn't decipher, coffee, chocolate brownie with ice-cream.

The Break-Up

Until one day, I found her cheating on me with a colleague of hers, Parvez. In my apartment which we shared. The colleague was also in a live-in relationship with another woman in his department. We'd gone out on double dates many times- movies, dinner, the occasional bar or discotheque.

I asked them both to get dressed and get out of the house. I was too conked out that night to launch into a full blown tirade. After they left I collapsed on the bed and fell asleep, crying.

She called me the next day on my phone- 48 times in all. I didn't pick up her calls and went to work, as usual. She called my partner and best friend Rohit- and he first convinced her he would speak to me. When he did, I asked him not to entertain her calls anymore. Then she called Nina, Rohit's fiancee, who was also Sarah's BFF, to convince me to pick up the phone. I refused. And all this happened in one day, let me tell you.

When I came home that night, I found her waiting in the living room, dressed in the same clothes as she had gone out in the previous night. I didn't say anything at all to her. I didn't know what to say. When something's wrong in a relationship you talk to your partner don't you? You talk to them about what you feel is wrong, rather than blaming them for the wrong by cheating on them. For the life of me I couldn't figure out why she cheated on me. I was numbed and it was like my mind automatically turned itself off as soon as I entered my house.

I took off my shoes in the living room, and went straight to the kitchen. Poured myself some wine, came back to the living room, sat at the dining table and quietly drank. She was still sitting on the couch. A pall of deathly silence hung around the house, as if someone had died and left a gaping hole in the universe. Well, something died, right? Something died, inside me. I can't tolerate people who cheat- in exams, in relationships or in anything.

Then she started to mumble something about 'working late', 'no love life', 'not socializing enough', 'too busy to care', 'cold and unresponsive', and a lot more I couldn't hear because the sound of gushing blood in my ears was drowning out all other sounds.

"I'm sorry, are you talking to me?" I finally asked.

"What? Of course I'm talking to you!" she replied.

"Are you done?"

"No. I want you to understand why."

"And what if I don't?"

"But you have to."

"Get out of my house."

"Excuse me?"

"You heard it. Get the hell out of my house. I'll have your stuff packed and sent wherever you want- you don't even have to come to collect it. Now get the hell out, before I lose it."

"But I..."

"Out. I don't want to hurt you, and I won't ask again. Get the hell out. I don't want to see you or hear from you again."

"Where will I go this time of the night?"

"How do I know? Go wherever you're free of me now. Off the top of my head, I'd suggest your new boyfriend's house. You can celebrate your break-up there, have fun."

She got up from the couch, and picked up her purse. She also started crying at the same time. Why do women start crying when called out on their mistakes?

She stormed out, banging the door shut in her wake. I cried myself to sleep again.

The madness that came after 

For the next few days she would text me, instead of calling. She knew I wouldn't receive her calls. Nina kept trying to persuade me to let her explain. I kept refusing. Sarah kept on texting she was sorry.

Sorry? For what? For cheating on your partner of six years for no apparent reason? If she had told me what left her dissatisfied in the relationship, I would've tried to rectify it. I would have done it for her. But she chose to cheat instead.

And that wasn't all. Later on I came to know that the time I found her wasn't the first time. She'd done it with that colleague for weeks before I found out. And this was told to me by none other than that colleague's girlfriend, who found out around the same time I did. She asked to send her stuff to, ironically, Parvez's address.

What kind of a moron forgives a serial backstabbing girlfriend? 

The texts continued for about two weeks, and then stopped. Perhaps she'd figured out that I wanted to be left alone, in my misery and grief, to cry myself to sleep every night.
Yes I do cry into my pillow. I'm a man who cries. Privately, but I'm not ashamed of it per se.

On the fifteenth day, she came to my workplace, and burst into my cabin. She looked sloshed, and was utterly unkempt- disheveled hair, mascara flowing down her cheeks, clothes stained and dirty looking, stinking of alcohol. On top of it she was screaming my name with 'bastard' attached to it.

Rohit was also with me at the time- we share the cabin as partners.

Before he could even arch his eyebrows in reaction, Sarah had a knife out and was bending over me, grabbing my collar with one hand and holding the knife high with another. It was a large steak knife, with serrated edges. Her bloodshot grey eyes were staring right at me.

" I will kill you Anthony Vaz." 

Saliva from her open mouth dribbled onto my shirt, her face so close that her breath, also stinking of alcohol, was right in my face.

Sarah was good with knives. And the only thought in my mind when I saw the knife coming down on me was that I, a cop who had seen dozens of murder victims, would become one myself in a matter of minutes.

I could feel the cold blade of the knife against my neck before Rohit pulled Sarah away from me, and managed to wrench the knife away from her. She fought him off- Sarah was a tough pixie- before he tackled her to the ground and managed to subdue her.

I decided not to press charges against Sarah when my boss, ACP Rawat, asked me what I would like to do about her. I instead suggested she be sent to a shrink for treatment- obviously she had some anger issues she needed to straighten out. I thought perhaps I would also come to know why she attacked me after I broke it off with her because of something she did.

She did see a shrink for some weeks. I came to know, through Nina, when her treatment got over and she got back to her job and normal life- a life where she was now rooming with Parvez.
I asked Nina if Sarah confided, in her, the reason she cheated on me and then attacked me. Nina said yes, then suddenly became cagey and said she couldn't 'betray her friend's confidences'. Sarah and I never saw each other after her knife attack.

The madness that came after the madness 

This happened AFTER Nina told me Sarah had stopped seeing the shrink.

On a few nights, as I returned home in my car, I felt a car following me right up to the gate to my apartment complex, parked a few feet behind.

On the fifth night this happened, I looked in the rear view mirror carefully. I couldn't see the license plate carefully, but the car was a blue Honda Civic.

Sarah drove a blue Honda Civic.

I decided to gun the engine and got out of my car to confront the driver of the Civic. But the car backed off and drove away before I'd taken a few steps away from my own car.

But Nina said Sarah is okay. She is okay, right?

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

The Bad Feminist's Guide to Dealing with Break-Ups- By Mia Santos- Part 1

How to deal with a break-up, Santos style, is what you're going to read in the next few posts.

Dealing with a break-up, like dealing with the grief inside you on losing a loved one, has several stages. Only grief has five stages but break-ups have more than that. Seven? Eight? Nine? Twenty? Endless?

I dunno. The horror of NEVER getting recovering from a break-up. Time freezing and space warping around you like there's nothing else except the fact that you're broken up with that special someone you love. Or you thought you loved. And you don't know and you didn't have a chance to find out and now you're not just broken up but broken inside too. Something's broken inside, and you can't glue it back together with Fevistick.

All I know that the first stage is disbelief.

Who broke up with whom? Who started it? Who ended it? Who dumped whom? Is this really happening? Is this a fucking nightmare? Am I high? Is he high? Are both of us high?

Did I just tell him it's over? Did I?

Did I really find him screwing another woman in the bed we shared for over five years? Or was it a jet lag induced hallucination? Some kind of undiscovered psychosis? You had just come home after a seventeen hour flight from New York. Some kind of mix-up? Perhaps I ended up in someone else's house and found a strange man fucking a strange woman and somehow the man's face morphed into that of my boyfriend Dev. Sorry...EX-boyfriend Dev. Or maybe I stepped into some parallel dimension and by some cruel twist of fate found the man I thought I loved in bed with another woman, the subtle machinations of an evil witch as keeps happening in those fantasy novels...

Wait. Come on, Mia. You know it was true. Going by the shocked expression on his face. This was no parallel dimension. This was the home you shared with him for five years, the bed you slept in with him.

Stop trying to excuse his infidelity. Stop trying to blame yourself for what happened. Just stop trying to deny it. It's true. It's happening, Get real. This probably isn't the first time. No wait. don't think about that or your blood pressure will shoot through the roof.

It's over. You and Dev are over. Get used to it.

Ok. Ok. Ok. I'm single again. Okay.

Disbelief has been dealt with,

Then comes the craziness. Mind-boggling craziness, hair-raising craziness, slasher movie craziness.

We'll talk about that in the next post.


Sunday, 23 October 2016

On Chetan Baba, Feminism, Elitist Bullies and Serial Mansplaining

Some of you may ask why I'm writing an article on Baba when I haven't read his latest book and don't read him in general. Well, this is less about his books and more about the man himself. Come on, the man is sort of a personality cult- his tweets, articles  in the Times of India and statements in interviews attract as much attention as his bestselling books. Not to mention his appearance on a dance show as a judge ( I don't know how that worked out though.) So even though I don't read Baba anymore ( I was done with him after Two States) I follow his interviews and other public appearances with interest. He amuses me- the guy's a comedian, a walking trigger for controversy, and he doesn't seem to mind. The controversy helps him sell more copies and he rides the beast called negative publicity with elan ( until, one day, it comes to bite him in the ass, just like it bites everyone in the ass).
Some of you may ask why I call him Baba. Well, it's kind of obvious isn't it? He's a youth icon, someone who is supposed to have captured the Being Indian Youth Experience in his books. And then, through his books, he attempts to tell the youth how to live their lives and deal with life's curveballs- IIT prep, college, ragging, girlfriends, sex, enterpreneurship, inter-community marriage etc. Then there's his TOI articles. I think Baba has taken the title of his first novel way too seriously- almost every Underage Optimist article I've bothered to read ( I don't read TOI anymore) ends with, or is all about, five points Baba thinks can solve any given problem. Every problem India as- political, social, economical, gender-based- can be solved in five points. Since he is a pundit who can hold forth on ANY topic, he's Baba.

So given my fascination with the personality cult of Chetan Baba, I've been following all interviews, articles and reviews around One Indian Girl. And this time I'm not amused.

Baba claims he's trying to explain feminism in a simple, light manner. I'm sorry, feminism in a simple, light manner? Is feminism like a Grade 10 English textbook, the answer key to which Baba wants to provide to his readers? So One Indian Girl is like Julius Caesar Made Easy for the average Chetan reader?
Then there's the thing about a 'likeable' feminist. Who is a likeable feminist? NO ONE. Asking for your cultural, social, political, economic and personal rights does not make us likeable. And I say this as a feminist myself. It makes you a demonized entity accused of being anti-men and anti-family and anti-marriage and anti-lots of things. We're only anti-patriarchy, actually, but hey who cares? Women have been oppressed for so long that now the power center is shifting and dividing equally amongst the three genders, those who enjoyed their privileged entitlement status under patriarchy are becoming scared of losing their hegemony.

So no there's no such thing as a likeable feminist. I you're trying to make a feminist likeable it doesn't bode well. By the time you're done watering down feminism to make a character likeable you'll be left with a plaint doll who's not a feminist but someone who's a pathetic excuse for one.
On that note I'll mention that in all reviews I've read, wheter by friends and fellow writers or in newspapers and magazines- all differ otherwise but agree in one aspect- Radhika has failed as a feminist character. Her decisions, her mini-me thoughts, her actions and her self-perception- all are the opposite of a feminist character as Baba claimed at his book launch.

There's other stuff he's said that I find strange and very unlike a man writing a feminist character.

First of all there's Baba claiming loudly that he got waxed to understand what it's like being a woman. Really? Waxing? What's so uniquely feminine about waxing that Baba thought this will give him the Being Woman Experience? Nowadays men are getting waxed too- chests especially. They're even getting mani-peddies to look good.
There are things which are uniquely feminine. Like, you know, menstruating. Too bad Baba can't implant a pair of ovaries in his abdomen to see what it's like to bleed. Or get pregnant, for that matter. Or he'll never get stared at and mentally undressed by lechers as he walks down a road, whether it's morning or evening. He'll never get stereotyped for wearing too much or too little make-up or being outspoken. He'll never get judged for having short hair, wearing jeans and tees or being a single, independent career woman. He'll never get scoled by parents or morally policed by neighboring aunties for not 'dressing modestly'. He'll never face workplace sexism. Now THAT's being a woman.

Moving on, Baba claims proudly he spoke to 100 professional women, including his wife, as part of his 'research'. And he says he knows these women and none of them are feminists.

100 women is too less a sample size, first of all. Although there are statistical formulae to calculate a proper sample size for serious scientific studies, especially in social sciences, I can still say that 100 is not a proper sample size. Especially when you're researching a complex, important topic like feminism. My friend and critically acclaimed author Sreemoyee Piu Kundu's bringing out a non-fiction on single women and she's spoken to many women across the country. A lot more than 100, I'm sure. Many of these are women she's not familiar with. Even for her feminist erotica novel Sita's Curse she interviewed many strange women and combined their experiences. But then Kundu's a feminist, Baba's not.

Baba also didn't speak to any feminists- the real deal. No, he doesn't have to agree with them or anything but they're experts, they know feminism better than a lot of us. India has so many well known feminists- Nivedita Menon, Flavia Agnes, Urvashi Butalia etc. Why didn't he speak to them to get an idea of what it's like to be a feminist in India? He's very quick to claim that feminists are bullies, 'ultra-feminists', and that having a uterus doesn't make them owners of the movement. He claims feminists bully both men and women and want 100% agreement to call others a feminist.

I'm sorry but how does he know that if he didn't actually speak to feminists? That's mansplaining. Having a prick doesn't make him an expert on who owns the feminist movement or what feminism should be.

That Baba didn't bother to even flip through a book on feminism is amply clear by his poor understanding of it. He's asking questions like- is feminism about not wanting a man, is feminism about telling little girls they don't need a man, is feminism about telling girls not to do girlie things, feminists deride women who apply make-up, are feminists okay with flirting? And he's asking these questions AFTER having written a book with a supposedly feminist character.

Again, mansplaining.

Nobody perhaps told him that feminism is about gender equality. Feminists flirt, have boyfriends, get married and have families. Gender equality means exactly what the words mean- men, women and transgender are equal. Some people wrongly call feminism as 'female equality'. Who will females be equal against? Themselves?

Feminism does NOT say that a woman can't have a boyfriend, pine after a man or feel loss after a break-up or apply make-up. Feminism just asks that a woman doesn't have to be subjugated to a man, or lose herself trying to please him or attain him. Feminism asks a woman to not build her identity or self-esteem around the approval of men but to have an identity of her own; to not feel that she's inadequate if she doesn't have a man in her life. Feminism is about women not wanting men for social or financial security or needing them for validation- it's about women wanting men to love, cherish and find a life with, grow old with. Feminism is about a woman applying make-up to please herself and choosing whether to apply make-up or not; it means she doesn't have to apply make-up to please others or to be desirable to men as such. If she wants to please a man then again, it's her choice to dress and make herself up the way she wants.

So again, mansplaining.

 Baba tried to mansplain, to a female reporter at The Wire, that women want to be taken care of by men. That is, apparently, being a woman. If I'm not in chronic need of a man to 'take care' of me because I believe I can take care of myself, or if I'm lesbian, I'm not a woman apparently. She called him out on the fact that the book is more of a man-trying-to-speak-for-a-woman rather than an autentic woman's POV- and he negated her concern by quoting sales numbers. Mansplaining again. Phew.

Lastly it's Baba's paranoia.

His books are doing exceedingly well. He's top dog on most bestseller charts in the country, people have warmed to his novels and even critics like me have learned to leave him alone. He has amassed a massive fan following which is loyal to him, faithfully buys his books and RT's him on Twitter. Not to mention the money he's made from the novels, film rights for three of his books and scriptwriting assignments.

What does he have to worry about then? An ( imagined) conspiracy against him. Feminists are elitist bullies trying to appropriate feminism ( God knows why he's saying that. What'd feminists do to you Baba? Make you feel emasculated?)
Then there's the old refrain, around the launch of every book, against the 'literary elite'- which are, I think, award-winning authors writing quality books, who either ignore him or publicly dismiss him as a pulp writer. The Old Boys (and Girls) Club which denies him admission. They apparently hate him because he's brought literature out of the 'ivory tower' and made it into a pedestrian thingy. Whose books don't sell as much as his and so who're not connecting to the public ( it's all in the umbers apparently). If you write a quality book for niche readers like me you're not doing it right and don't deserve to write- you should only write populist BS that sells millions of copies.

Or maybe it's the critics who deride him for poor language, languid prose and hackneyed storytelling who are the elitists who deny him any recognition.

But I thought Baba didn't care. I thought he made houses with bricks thrown at him and used the spit thrown at him to shine. And made omlets of the eggs and tomatoes. I don't know what he did with the shoes and slippers thrown at him. He said he's not trying to be good at writing. Then why care when people say he's not good?

Then why claim there's a conspiracy, either by feminist bullies or elitist gatekeepers of literature? Baba's more paranoid than his ideal, PM Modi. Now PM Modi has a genuine reason to worry  because he's a powerful politician with umpteen enemies and the threat of violence looming over him is real.
What threat is Baba facing? What will feminists do to him, even if they're bullies? Why the extreme hostility against feminists? What will the Old Club elitists do to him? Wallop him over the head with a broomstick? Take away his toys? Turn his readers against him?

Seriously, Baba, the whining's getting a bit old. Grow up. Stop bothering yourself and stop bothering us. And stop mansplaining to women about womanhood and feminism. Women can decide how to be women and how to feel about feminism and how to adopt it in their lives should they believe in it.

Baba mansplains feminism to a woman reporter

More examples of mansplaining by CB

Friday, 21 October 2016

Review- Rain- Sriram Subramanian

Blurb: Architect Jai Dubey trusts in reason - not for him the faith and prayer so firmly ingrained in his fellow countrymen. When fortune deserts Jai and his carefully ordered life spins inexorably out of control, Jai stands on the brink of ruin. Only a delayed monsoon can save Jai’s biggest project from disaster, but there are millions across the land praying for the exact opposite. 
Reason seems to have its limits - the weather defies all prediction, let alone control. 
Will Jai relinquish the beliefs of a lifetime? Will he reconcile with the awful ambiguity about his past? Will he be able to save his crumbling marriage? 

Before I proceed to critique the book, let me provide some context. The day I started reading the book on my smartphone, we were moving from Goregaon to Kandivali. The entire day went buy in getting stuff packed and moved- you can imagine the chaos. And yet in the middle of this chaos, I finished to read the entire book in a day! All 200 pages of it were done by the time I went to sleep. I was helping my mother with the movers, and then reading in breaks. The book was so interesting I couldn't put it down. 

This is the story of Jai Dubey and his 'different' ideals- how he has his own construction company, a small entity working for small time businesses and staying afloat. Jai is very particular about sticking to his guns- he won't work for many clients at a time so he can give each project his best instead of taking on numerous projects and doing most half-baked. He knows he could make more money with more clients but quality matters more to him. He loves his wife who has a job of her own, and supports her career. He puts up with his shrill, nasty mother-in-law and brother-in-law Ashok who's a wily politician, jams with his scientist father-in-law and takes care of his employees and friend-cum-business partner. He's an atheist who doesn't fall for the religious mumbo jumbo of his Marathi in-laws. 
I found Jai quite relatable because I found a little of myself in him- independent, rational and solid personal principles.

All this falls flat when his mother in law challenges him to build a proper home for her daughter and not make her live in a rented apartment. Jai goes on to make some major choices...unusual ones that cost him  a lot- his friend and business partner Ravi, his business, and most of all threatens to tear apart his marriage. At the same time he's dealing with demons from his horrible past, most of which he has blocked out and is trying to recover. Then he makes some really drastic decisions and they change the way he looks at life itself. 

The characters are all well fleshed out, but the best is Jai's. His ideals and how they come in conflict with his situation, how he changes his way of thinking overtime, how he fails to make the right choices at the right time...Jai is endearing in his fallibility, his self-doubt, his making poor choices. 

There was also a constant thread of suspense in the book, all created by Jai's actions. What will he do next, and where will his choices take the plot? 

Sriram writes extremely well- the prose is of high quality and he doesn't let up once in language and grammar. The editing is excellent and his skill as a wordsmith shows in the fact that he has managed to write evocatively without using one big word throughout. That's true craftsmanship. That stuff takes practice- reading a lot, writing a lot and then getting your writing critiqued by neutral parties who will give an unbiased review. 

I was a little eager to get through the philosophical parts, and some of Jai's actions are really weird. Enumerating those would mean providing spoilers so I won't talk about them. But needless to say the bumps are few and don't affect on the overall appeal of the story.

Sriram has obviously been through the proper whetting process and come out shining. In a scenario where people who have never picked up a novel in their life before are venturing to write books and become bestselling authors, and where authors deliberately dumb down language, grammar and content to appeal to the mass market, Sriram is a noteworthy exception. In refusing to compromise on quality, he has shown his mettle, his integrity as an author who respects his craft and whose work will endure the ravages of time. 

RAIN is a touching story of a man confused in his ideals, fighting his personal demons, and coming out victorious. This book checks all the criteria for quality literature. Go buy your book and encourage authors like Sriram: RAIN

Monday, 12 September 2016

Society and sensational women: A Passing Glance

So last week I read about two sensational women, namely, Rekha and  the late Madhavi Kutty. Rekha is a Bollywood actress whom, despite her experience in the film industry you can't dismiss as yester-year because she's still acting or dancing to item numbers. Madhavi Kutty, also known as Kamala Das, is a poet and novelist- I say 'is' because even though her physical form has passed away, her spirit lives on through the mark she left on literature in India.
There was an article in Outlook ( Through the Author's Veil) that talks about a new book coming out on her personal life, which was rife with controversies. I read some of Kutty's poetry while in school, but came to know of her life only now.
Rekha is a Bollywood celebrity, and that sort of predisposes her to a colorful life ( although there are people who keep a low profile and don't court controversies). Whether it's her doomed love life, the bordering-on-sexual-harassment incident with actor Biswajeet when she was barely fifteen on a movie set, her origins as the love child of famous South Indian artistes, her makeover, the sexist comments made on her looks by actors and directors, her rumored affair with Big B, the suicide of her husband Mukesh Agarwal for which she was demonized...Rekha has lived a life filled with ups and downs. All this is chronicled in a book on her recently released by Juggernaut (Rekha- The Untold Story).
What is similar about the two women mentioned above? They are, by profession, as disparate as possible. And yet I perceive similarities in their personalities and lives. Namely:
1. Both are successful women in their fields
2. Both, whether willingly or not, courted controversies throughout their lives.
3. Both lived life on their own terms
4. Both never needed or used men to validate their existence. Their identities and reputations are based on their own individuality.
5. Both were reviled and criticized and demonized by a society still deeply entrenched in patriarchy because they refused to adhere to archaic diktats that control and oppress women.
6. Both used the public's sexist mentality and perverse hunger for sensationalism to their advantage. Both deliberately fanned rumors about their personal lives, especially love affairs, that created controversies and put them in the limelight. And both benefited from it as well!

It's the last point that makes these two most remarkable. It's an ugly truth that a patriarchal society like India will never let maverick women like Madhavi and Rekha just be. They will vilify, adore and probe and intrude and generalize as it suits their regressive, hypocritical mentality. An extension of this mentality is exhibited by a sleazy, unethical media which will go to any lengths to pull famous people, when they can, to sell copies to a perverse reader base that craves controversy and titillation. Famous women especially are soft targets- because they're women and the media is no less sexist than the general public.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Review- Two 'Unfinishable' Books

As much as I tried, I could not ring myself to finish the both of these books. Maybe my reading preferences, preconceived notions about both literature and society, and my penchant for well written books with stories that make sense is responsible.

My different educational and social background from the author maybe the reason I couldn't read Democracy 2.0. There's no real story, no characterization, no plot, no agency, no goals, no direction to the tale. The novel's blurb suggests it is about a revolution but it peddles and perpetuates all cliches in the Indian educational system. It repeats the same old rhetoric about MBBS/Engineering and then IAS- the path most students take when they don't go down the B.Tech-MBA way. The book blatantly ignores other unexplored fields like pharmacy, journalism, literature etc. as a revolution for young people for career choices- that's how India's actually going to rehaul it's socio-educational structure and the nation can think of developing. There are also cliches regarding women and how they should live and behave. The book perpetuates a patriarchal domination of public spaces and discourses in the Indian milieu. Some revolution.
Like I said, my different educational and social background from the author maybe why the book didn't click with me. The author should seriously read some actual books and learn how to write a story. This sounds like a fancy version of a boring government report.

The Dominion sounds like an interesting novel on the outside. But once you start reading you find out how flawed this book is. There is no cohesion to the narrative. I cannot make head or tail of the story no matter how hard I try. The flawed language and grammar, and numerous typo errors, make the novel more difficult to comprehend because it's obfuscating the story. This made it all the more difficult to proceed with the book. The author said they took three years to write the book- but this is a very poor output. No cohesion of narration, no discernible plot structure, no pacing, no semblance of sanity in the story...made the book difficult to click with me. I can only proceed with a novel when it 'clicks' with me, interests and intrigues and invites me, in the first few pages. This book, alas, fails to do that. The author needs to go back to the drawing board and rehash their skills and their understanding of the basics of the craft.

Thank you.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Review-Among the Stars- Dhasa Sathyan

Usually my reviews are long and detailed; but for this book I'll keep it relatively short and sweet. The author sent me a free copy in exchange for an honest review, so I owe him an honest review. This book is one of those you can delineate easily into the strong points and flaws, so I'll directly talk about that and try to be as lucid as possible.

First, the good points of the book:
1. The themes: In a scenario where the reader base in India is dangerously, and depressingly, tilted towards soppy, cold turkey romance novels, the author has made the right choice by opting to write a book of short stories about various human themes brought together under the umbrella of twisted, dark storylines ( another reason it clicked with me). From zombie horror to psychotic army men to psychedelic plants on mysterious deserted islands, the author has got the variety right and interesting.
2. Ideas have potential: The ideas are original and have potential, if explored properly, of making for mind-blowing stories.
3. Emotional intelligence: The stories speak of everyday human beings, our varying moods, shades and fantasies. Emotional intelligence in a book is important, at least for me, as a reader, to connect with it.

Flaws: As good is the idea of the book and its potential to shine, Among The Stars fails miserably in execution. And that's the sad part- to see books with great potential never realize their own capacity for greatness. Where it fails:
1. Language: Honestly, from the quality of writing, it's glaringly obvious that the author has had lack of practice- both in reading and writing. Too many big words and too much purple prose. A mistake many first-time writers make, seeking to impress by usage of complex words and phraseology. Wrong. The reader seeks the story, the context, something they can relate to first; and vocab second. You don't need complicated language to tell a great story and leave an impact- your writing becomes powerful when you string simple, lucid language together in an effective manner.
This needs practice. You need to read and read and read books till your mind resonates with words that coalesce into ideas. You need to write and get your work critiqued, then write more and more critique till you can pack those ideas cogently into power-packed prose. This is inevitable.
2. Grammar and quality of prose: Grammatical errors-basic ones- dot the landscape of the book, and take away from the stories. Add in the poor use of language and the prose becomes stilted and difficult to sift through. As a reader I'm being blocked because the author hasn't packed any flow into the prose. There's no finesse, and the prose is languid, lacklustre.
3. Poor editing: The editor can still take away some of the inadequacy by at least window dressing the work- especially in this case where the author lacks basic language skills and grammar skills. But where the editor disappear into on this one?
Will make a comment here, even though it's perhaps not my place to make it. Has the editing been ignored because the publisher is a vanity publishing house? Then I would advise the author to go with a traditional publisher next time, or hire a good editor if the publisher is a small or middle-level press. Editing IS important, no matter how much we are awestruck with Chetan Bhagat's bestselling status despite the horrible language and grammar and lack of editing.
It may take time, and numerous attempts, to find a good trad pub house- but in the mean time the author can hone his writing skills by reading a lot, writing a lot and getting his work critiqued by other writers in critique groups.

But do check the book out because it has some really original ideas in store: Among The Stars

Review-Honor For A Ransom- Rajnish Gambhir

Blurb: "April 13th, 1978. Kartar Singh, an upper caste agriculturist, guns down his newly married daughter Simran and her lower caste husband, for the sake of 'upholding family honour'.His ex-lover, Sarah Jefferson (a British psychologist) visits him in jail to discover that Kartar has been a victim of ruthless manipulation at the hands of his politician father, Dilawar Singh, who is known to unconditionally despise the lower caste. Vowing justice for Kartar, Sarah embarks on an intriguing mission, venturing to turn the tables against the unscrupulous Dilawar, who by now is a powerful minister in the Punjab cabinet. Curiously delving into his boyhood days, she is astonished to learn that young Dilawar was in fact an 'affable-boy-next-door' who too had a love life, having lost his heart to a beautiful girl in Lahore... What then caused this drastic transformation in his attitude and personality? With the time fast running out, can Sarah succeed in nailing Dilawar as the chief culprit for the honour killings? Will she be able to reunite with Kartar - the only man she ever loved? A heartrending love story - Honour for a Ransom unfolds through the Jallianwala Bagh massacre, horrifying hazards of partition, romantic strolls by the Thames, and the unbending complexities of the rigid caste system." 

Honor For A Ransom is one of the most touching books I've ever read. No, it's not a faux-emotional tear jerker like the tripe dished out by crap-tastic writers like Ravinder Singh. 
This is, in the actual sense, an emotion-filled, high on context and brutally honest book about both the caste system in India, and honor killings- a construct of patriarchy wherein society tries to control women's bodies and sexuality by interfering in their choice of life partners, and deciding when they should marry and how they should have kids. This book also struck a cord with me because it exposes the hypocrisy, tyranny and misogyny of the arranged marriage system. 
In the first scene itself, Kartar Singh, a man who is an agriculturist and a gentle being whose nimble hands have lifted nothing more dangerous than a pen- that too to write profound poetry- murders his only daughter Simran and her 'lower caste' husband in cold blood. 
Post that, it's a gut-wrenching tale of the havoc that Dilawar Singh, Kartar's sociopath father, wrecks upon the entire family. 
Gambhir effortlessly straddles timelines to tell the story of three different generations- 1947 and Partition, when young Dilawar's life is torn apart by events that transform him into a sociopath and narcissist who will go to any lengths to get what he wants; Kartar's own love life with the British lady Sarah Jefferson and how it's destroyed by his father; and Simran's own love story with her husband and how it is brought to a brutal end. 
Dilawar is very well sketched as the sociopath; so is his elder daughter-in-law, Parminder. 
Kartar's life journey is portrayed evocatively...of a good man who lacks a backbone and ends up hurting the woman he loves; and how he's shattered after gunning down his Simmo and her husband, and the tragedy that follows, and how his father treats him like his puppet. 
Both Sarah and Simran have been sketched extremely well as strong, intelligent and independent women with a mind of their own and a will of iron. They're my kind of women.
Especially the relation between Sarah and Kartar has been written very well. 
The most poignant story is that of Kartar's invalid mother and alcoholic brother Nihal- the devastating effect Dilawar has on their lives is both outrageous and sad. 

Read this book, for it will make you think about both the individual and societal evil that is patriarchy; and the bane that is the caste system. And when both combine, they make for a decadent populace that cannot rise above its mediocrity. 
The language is very good and the grammar is perfect. The editing shines through. 

Anyone who enjoyed the movie NH10 will enjoy this book too. I'd say go for it; we need more books like this, well-written and high on emotional intelligence and context.

Grab your copy here: Honour For a Ransom 

Friday, 24 June 2016

Review- The Madras Mangler by Usha Narayanan

First of all, it's rare to find a crime thriller written in India.
Second of all, it's even rarer to find a well written, well researched crime thriller.
Usha Narayanan's The Madras Mangler is one of those books.

The story revolves around five young women studying in Chennai's SS Padmaja college. Kat, Minx, Moti, Deepika and Lolita, five young, ambitious ladies who want to make something of their lives- something other than getting married, raring babies and serving their husbands like slaves as expected by the patriarchal society around them.

Usha's novel is loaded with subtext. She shows how patriarchy affects the girls' personal lives and their relations with their own families and boyfriends, it also depicts the misogyny and the violence against women rampant on the college campus and in Chennai as a city. It's like everywhere they go they're surrounded by miscreants who have the most perverted fantasies about women and violence against women is almost a ritual. This is how a lot of women in India feel, especially those trying to break the stranglehold of patriarchy and the glass ceiling as well. From the nerds who go around campus, openly making sexist comments and harassing girl students, to the misogynist Dean who espouses archaic attitudes towards women, to the cop who is as regressive and unconcerned with gender equity and other issues- we've seen and faced them all.
What I like is how the author has etched the women protagonists as not damsels in distress, but women who fight on their own level first and overcome difficulties, and even help each other out in time of need. Only and only when matters get a little out of hand do they take the adorable male lead Vir Pradyumna's help.
Vir himself is a lovable character, relying more on brains than brawn to get his work done; and he doesn't hit on the woman he likes, or make her feel low or other such tactics, to get her to go out with him. I like how he genuinely respects and helps the girls, like teaching them self-defence and asking them to be careful when they find the bodies in the Adyar river.

The serial killings, in themselves, bring out the patriarchy in sharp contrast: How such incidences are a way for regressive fringe groups to make sexist statements, and how women are advised to stay indoors and blamed if harmed, rather than being taught to be careful and stick up for themselves.

The background of murder and mayhem fits in well with the story and makes the plot delicious and the twists refreshing. The research in criminology has been done well, and Vir espouses the sharp criminologist with a human side very well. The suspense is nail-biting, the tension sustained till the end.
The climax is satisfying and great, an 'Aha' moment for a thriller buff like me.

Usha writes very well, her prose alive and taut, her language brilliant and her grammar perfect- this I suppose owing to her advanced degrees and proficiency in Literature and creative writing, and her solid background in advertising and teaching literature as well.
Usha writes like a pro, and if I may make a personal statement here: Her writing is of a very high level and this reflects in the fact that she has gone on to get published subsequently with Harlequin and Penguin Random House.
TMM is Usha's debut but she has outshined a lot of other English writers in India with this novel. She's a very intelligent and evocative writer as well, cutting through the crap to make an outstanding, articulate statement about gender inequity and societal apathy towards both women and people who're different.

I wish to read another nail-biting thriller from Usha, and wish her all the best for her future works across all genres she treads.

Go read The Madras Mangler if you want a good read with tea and fritters on a rainy evening. And a succor from the crass pop fiction being churned out as 'literature' today.

You can get a copy of this amazing novel here: The Madras Mangler

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Tall Tales Thursday: Short fiction- Strangler Lingerie

The first time Raja's mother admonished him for looking at 'those ungodly things' was when he was almost thirteen.
He was with his mother at a big, plush boutique. While Mrs. Kataria bantered with the saleswoman about the various salwar-kameez she put on the counter with alacrity, Raja was bored. Sulking, he moved around, looking at the mannequins and clothes on display, occasionally glancing at his phone and texting.
Somehow, without consciously realizing, he wandered off into the lingerie section. The saleswomen stared at him, goggle-eyed, or looked at each other and giggled. What was a lanky, pimply teenage boy doing looking at lingerie? Raja, at first, was blissfully unaware, texting away to friends.
When he did pocket his phone and look up, he frowned. This seemed new, unchartered territory. Skimpy, oddly cut garments of all shapes and sizes, in different colors and designs. Some were designed to look like the skin of a leopard!
Intrigued, Raja strolled in between the aisles, inspecting the goods on display, fleetingly running his hands over them occasionally, enjoying the soft silk or the plush velvet, when he thought no one was looking. At the end of an aisle, he reached a mannequin. The mannequin was built voluptuous, just like those actresses he kept seeing in the movies. It was dressed in a leopard-print brassiere and underpants and posed in a way that Raja found alluring.
He turned around to face the aisle and saw that the same two-piece was displayed on a hanger nearby, with a transparent golden slip covering it.
He walked over, and hesitantly reached out with his to touch it.


He turned around and saw his mother standing there, hands on hips, her eyes two burning, yellow hot coals.

"Haramkhor! What do you think you're doing, you idiot? Touching those ungodly things!"
"But I was just..."

"Don't you know these things are evil and against our culture?" she shouted, and slapped him hard. Hearing her, two saleswomen ran to where they stood.
It is normal for a boy of Raja's age to be curious about women's underwear and lingerie; but his mother was unlikely to understand that. Even more unlikely was that she would talk to her son about what he was feeling and why; and what lingerie was. And how it was okay for him to be curious about girls and their undies, but still have a healthy relation with them.

Raja stared back at his mother, tears in his eyes, reeling more from anger than embarrassment. Now they were surrounded by a group of saleswomen and other customers, who'd dropped in for some free entertainment.

"These things are evil, you moron! They will strangle you in your sleep!"


"Yes...these things are the work of demons! They will come and strangle you in your sleep! Never touch them, or as much as look at them. Do you understand?"



"Yes, Ma."

Fast Forward: Ten years later 

"Make yourself at home, Rajan!" his girlfriend shouted from the bathroom.


Rajan looked about the room in the large, plush three-bedroom apartment. Nina was his first girlfriend; and the first woman he had ever meaningully connected to. Ever since he had moved away from home, to come as an undergraduate to DU to study English Literature and Linguistics, this was the first time he came really close to a woman.

Rajan believed it was because he was away from his overbearing, obnoxious mother and his distant, taciturn father that he was finally breathing free. Ever since he'd come to Delhi, clinched a scholarship and also found a part-time job to support his studies and living expenses, he had vowed never to go to that hell-hole he'd been forced to call 'home' for years. He wasn't 'Raja' anymore.

And yet, he'd found it difficult to talk to Nina when he'd first fallen for her. Both of them were classmates in the Masters in English Lit batch; both were, again, scholarship students. Nina was a young, blue-jean-and-T-shirt-and-funky-accessory wearing, outspoken, intelligent, well-read young woman from Chandigarh.

It was she who had approached and befriended him. He'd glance at her during classes or when she was with friends- not stare, just glance.

"In a city where men stare me down like I'm sex on a stick, while mentally undressing me and probably having the wildest sexual fantasies, your admiring glances are a welcome surprise," she'd told him. He'd opened up to her. After days of cajoling and seducing, she got him to kiss and make out with her.

And then she brought him to the apartment she rented with two girlfriends, both of whom weren't at home.

"Hey!" she whispered in his ear, grabbing him by the waist, from behind.

"Hey!" he replied, holding her hands with his. And felt the soft, tantalizing touch of silk on his skin.

"Are you wearing lingerie?" he asked.

"Yes, Raj." Only she called him Raj.

He turned around to look at her. She looked ravishing in a grey brassiere and underpants that both highlighted her curves and left little to the imagination, clearly visible under a transparent black slip. She had applied kohl to her eyes to make them look smoky, and it somehow made her face all the more aluring.

"I'm...I'm sorry...I can't do this," he said. The horribly vivid vision of his mother slapping and berating him in the boutique all those years ago came back to him. So did the memory of how he had woken up, for days after that incident, in the middle of the night, covered in sweat. He woke up from nightmares where hundreds of brassieres and women's underpants snuck up to him in bed, and strangled him.

"What...why not?"

"I just...can't. I'm sorry, Nina."

"Oh, I think I know the reason. You don't think I'm desirable enough, perhaps? That's why yyou won't as much as look at me?" she asked, hurt.

"Oh no no. It's not that, not at all."

"Then what is it? Please explain before you leave!"

"You look...amazing. I like you. But I'm...I'm afraid of those things..." he replied, staring at the ground, his hands pointing to her bra.

"My breasts?"

"No. I meant your underwear."

"What? You're afraid of my underwear? Are you serious?"


"But why? They don't bite!"

Rajan looked at Nina, and tears came into his eyes. Tears of exasperation. He thought he was free from that vile woman who was his mother...but distance couldn't cure the curse she had given him- undie- phobia. He couldn't as much look at women's underwear, should he be so unfortunate so as to encounter them, without getting the urge to pour kerosene over them and set fire.

"Okay, that's it. Tell me why you're afriad of my undies. What's wrong with them?"

Rajan told her about the boutique incident, and the nightmares. It was a test of strength of Nina's character and her feelings for Rajan that she didn't burst out laughing.

Instead, she got dressed, ordered pizza, and they spent the night eating and talking.

A few weeks later

Nina took Rajan to a prominent psychiatrist, who he visited once a week for his 'problem'.

They did get together on Nina's insistence, but she simply built up the tension by dressing in a flimsy robe.

Slowly, because of the shrink's therapy and Nina's support, Rajan started overcoming his phobia. The doctor advised him to face his fear with information- by researching the objects that terrified him, he could convince himself that they couldn't  harm him.

So he did exactly that, with help from his girlfriend. It involved visiting the lingerie section of boutiques, all by himself; the first two of these visits had him almost freaking out with a panic attack. But he didn't give up.

Nina hoped he will grow free of his fear, one day.

Note: This story came to me while I was reading an article, on the prominent feminist blog, The Ladies Finger, about how, in public, display of women's underwear is considered a taboo. As a feminist and observer of human behavior, this mentality both amuses and irritates me. Why do we women have to hide our undies from view like they're some disgusting little secret? Or worse, some weapon of mass cultural destruction?
This story is merely intended as a sardonic take on sexist attitudes regarding us women and our clothes and sartorial behavior. It's not meant to tantalize or tittilate you.
You can find the link to the original article here: Why do Bras in Public Terrorize Some People?

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

D for Devil Comes to Greenfield

Greenfield, Missouri 

Church of St. Agnes

Father Morton O'Neill unlocked the door to his office, his glance flitting to the door of the office adjacent to his. The gap beneath the door of Father Goretti's office showed that the lights were still on in there.

He's been here all night? But why? 

Morton left his own door open and walked to his superior's cabin. He would ask the other priest if he would like a large mug of hot coffee.

"Father Goretti? This is Morton. May I come in, please?" asked Morton, while knocking on the door.

There was no answer.

"Father Goretti? You in there?"

Morton noticed that the door was slightly ajar. And again, there came no reply.

A cold shiver passed down Morton's back- and he had an overwhelming feeling something was terribly amiss. He remembered the chilling spectre of Dorothy Swanson's body in the churchyard.

His heart rate suddenly shooting up, he slowly pushed open the door, and entered.

"No! No! Father....Nooooooooo!"

Amelio Goretti's corpse hung from the ceiling, bloody and oscillating slightly, blocking the sunlight from the large window behind his desk.

His blood was dripping onto the desk and had trickled to the floor. His throat and wrists had been slit and his eyes were open.

Morton ran to his office and called the Sheriff's office.

Sheriff Hadley and his team found Morton slumped against the door of Goretti's cabin, dazed.
They were accompanied by Senator Tuttle, who was a former priest as well, and a local celebrity politico now.

"Our Father in Heaven, protect us from evil. The Devil Has Come to Greenfield!" he exclaimed when he saw the corpse.

This post is written for the A to Z Challenge

Monday, 4 April 2016

C for Churchyard Massacre

In a small town in Missouri 

The first rays of sunshine kissed the treetops as the morning dawned on the town. The sun also shone on the spires of the Church of St. Agnes, located in the midst of the town square, where the faithful flocked for prayers every day, and for Sunday school.

The janitor walked into the empty churchyard, looking around him, moving in the direction of the outhouse where his tools were kept.

That was when his attention fell on the figure mounted on the sharpened, interconnected spiked metal grill on top of the compound wall that bordered the church perimeter. The wall was several feet was impossible to make out who was on those spikes or why. On top of that, he was near-sighted, so the figure was nothing more than a blurred shape in the distance.

"Hello? Who goes there? What're you doing there?" the janitor yelled.

There was no response.

"You need to get down from there right now, whoever you are."

No response.

Shaking his head, Enrico the janitor changed course and walked towards the compound.

Only when he came near did he see what the figure was.

"Dios mio! El diablo!" Enrico screamed, and then screamed again, and then called for Father Goretti.

Hearing his screams, Father Goretti, who was lighting incense at the altar in the sanctum sanctorum, came running out into the churchyard.

"Enrico! What happened?" he yelled, coming to stand next to the terrified janitor.

"Oh my God! Deliver us from evil!!" he whispered, horrified, crossing himself when he saw what was mounted on the grill.


He sat in his living room, drinking a can of beer, eating hotdogs and watching the 11 o'clock news.

A female presenter, dressed in a black skirt-suit, was speaking into the camera.

"Good morning this is Angela Perkins with Missouri 24x7. The small but closely-knit community of Greenfield is shocked and scared at the murder of a local woman, Dorothy Swanson. Dorothy, a mother of two and community service volunteer at the Church of St. Agnes, was found impaled in the churchyard of the very church she worked for. Her body was found skewered like a kebab on the spiked metal grill atop the compound wall. The police are at a loss to explain her death- Dorothy was a dear sweet woman, loved by her husband Dale, who is a top local salesman for farming equipment, and her kids Patience and Cuthbert. She was even instrumental in getting more people to join the church and believe in God's glory."

He snorted loudly. Yeah, that lady sure was a recruitment agent for the church. Sanctimonious bitch! Had told him to believe in God and reform his life. In that grating, sweet voice.

'You have lost your way, young man. You need the Lord to show you the way. Let him be your shepherd!'

But she had squealed like a stuck pig when he was hauling her up and going to impale her. Or as the reporter had said, skewered her like a kebab.

But she was only the first of many. Those sheep of the Lord had to be taught a lesson.

It was his mission.

This post is written for the 2016 A to Z blogging challenge