Thursday, July 21, 2011

Legacy of Harry Potter

Harry, Ron, Harmione, Malfoy, Dumbledore, Snape and Voldemort, aren’t just any names but these are the names which brought a sense of inexplicable comfort and joy in my teens. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that this book was a big part of my life when I was growing up. I can safely say that I grew with the Potter series. The definition of fantasy was changed when J.K.Rowling conceived HP. Till then, the concept of fantasy included prince, princesses, super heroes, who were ‘good' while devils, witches were the ‘baddies’, who were eventually defeated by the good guys. With HP, wizards were not the ‘bad’ guys, but a magical race of people living in a secret world, with good and bad amongst them. HP series came with a bang, broke all possible records and took the world by storm and was worth every ounce of the hype. Once again, reading was ‘cool’.

My affair with HP started on one summer afternoon. When the bad picture quality and abridged version of the rented DVD left me confused about the entire concept, I decided to pick up the book, which I finished in two days flat (which, then, was a big feat for the 13 year old me :P ). I was bewitched, to say the least. Not a single day was spent without wishing that I wasn’t just a mere muggle. HP wasn’t just another story. It was a perfect amalgamation of reality and fantasy. It had the figments of magic and strokes of harsh realities of life. 

Every book in the series outlined one topic in particular. ‘Good vs. Evil’. It wasn’t just the usual ‘hero vs.villian’ stuff. It emphasized on how to face and handle the good and bad in self, in friends, in different situations and emotions.  It's portrayed very dramatically that the ‘good’ sometimes has to fight a lot to rise above the ‘bad’ but it eventually wins. This has been an age old lesson but the HP series took it to a different level. The concept of courage, trust, friendship, compassion,faith and hope has been brilliantly essayed. Whether it was a Quidditch match or fight against Voldemort, I always found my heart racing. Every character is sketched with utmost care and detail throughout the series, which isn’t a mean feat. Everyone, for sure, will relate themselves and their friends with some character in the book. I surely did. My emotions ran wild whenever I read these books. There were a lot of humorous moments (Weasley twins’ antics, Ron’s wrong spells) , many nail-biting instances (esp.Quidditch matches,) many gasping moments (Hermione almost turning into a cat, her punching Malfoy, the big chess game in the 1st book), happy moments ( Harry meeting everyone after the vacations, win after a game, their achievements, and Ron and Hermione FINALLY getting together) and painful parts which made sure of misting my eyes (Harry’s constant yearning for his parents, the fights and misunderstanding between him and Ron, kept me in the sad mode for hours) But the death of Sirius, Dumbledore, Weasley twin was totally unexpected, unrequired and devastating. I was thankful that I was alone when I weeping over their demises. It was a crazy roller-coaster ride. I would laugh, gasp, and cry all at once. It was too difficult a task of juggling all the different emotions within short intervals. All this for fictitious characters!

HP series personally helped and inspired so many people in so many unimaginable ways. Innumerable stories from around the world are a proof of that. The magical part was sheer delight. It left everyone wishing that the magical part in the books was a reality instead. I can say with utmost confidence that all the readers, at some point or the other, wanted to get a invitation letter from the wizard world, wanted to keep owl as a pet, wanted to ride the broom, held a stick or pencil and uttered different spells, gazed up in the sky hoping to see flying brooms, wished they had the invisibility cloak, wished they could eat the funny chocolates, had the urge to run through a pillar in a railway station, looked at a person and wondered if he/she was a wizard/witch. Just about everything about HP series felt so cool. Many a times it was like an ice-breaker for me when it came to making new friends. That time, school kids were not segregated as popular and nerds but as HP fans and non-HP fans. It was accompanied by a weird sense of belonging when you automatically were a part of the huge, ever-growing Potter family. Who would have thought that time, that a book would make such a gigantic difference in any way possible.

There were times when I was sure that Rowling had a secret wand and she just waved the wand to come up with all the amazing stories. The moment a new book came in the market, the wait for the next one started. And the wait was always excruciating (not exaggerating again). I was just in awe of her story telling. What seemed insignificant and irrelevant in one book became an important part in another book. Every book had some loose ends which were finally tied down in the last book. This just shows the brilliance of Rowling's story-telling. It's just weird to think how all the books and the entire storyline was planned way before she started writing. Reading the last book was the most difficult and bittersweet experience. I wanted to read it as fast as possible just to know what happens next but at the same time I didn’t want read it fast as it was the last of HP series. The book got better and exciting with every turning page and when the last page came I couldn’t believe it was finally over. (Yea, another bout of sadness). It was surreal. But even there were movies still being made and that was comforting. Now when the last movie was released, I couldn’t help but wonder if this, indeed, was the end of an era. But, I realised that it was just a hypothetical end as the HP series has left behind a legacy. An unforgettable, eternal legacy. I remember fairy tales always starting with a ‘once upon a time’ and ending with a ‘happily ever after’. This series had a start and end which almost meant the same but it's zillion notches above what you call a fairy tale or any other tale. Many stories have been inspired among the same lines but they will never attain what HP has. I’m sure HP will still be popular many generations down the line. Harry started his journey on the steps outside his aunt’s door and completed his journey inside everyone’s heart.

For me, HP series kept me enchanted for a long time. It will always be special and memorable for me in many ways. Daniel Radcliff said that he’s the only person in the world who doesn’t want an eighth book. Undoubtedly, he’s true about that. Rest of us muggles will be over-the-top if Rowling picks up her magic wand and create another masterpiece. Till then, fingers crossed. And hoping to receive the letter from Hogwards ;)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The God of Small Things -- Arundhati Roy

I was a little sceptical of picking another award-winning book of the shelves after I had a bad experience reading one book which I kind of hated. But I still thought of taking the risk and picked up this book. The chance paid off handsomely and left me with a beautiful reading experience. The experience of reading this brilliantly written book can be narrowed down to 1 word as told by a friend: Surreal. It took Arundhati 4 years to finish of this book and the efforts and work that went into writing this book for 4 years is clearly visible and I felt that every page deserved the Booker Prize solely because of the honesty and boldness with which it is written. The message sent out through the book is that, the most powerful emotion of all is, Love. Presence and absence of it can make a big difference. It cannot be forced on anyone, including family, for any reason, it’s something that can make you do things which you can be proud of or regret, and it’s that emotion over which you absolutely have no control of. The highlight of this book is definitely the way it’s written. The depth of every emotion is beautifully penned down and almost brings it to life. This story shows how little things that happened in the past and how the lack of care, attention and love can completely change a person’s life and can alter his present and future.

The plot is set in Kerala in 1969 when the caste system was prevalent. Rahel and Estha are fraternal twins with a ‘Siamese soul’. Born eighteen minutes apart, these twins were never considered as two different individuals by anyone. Rahel was the bubblier twin who had a ‘fountain’ hairstyle and red coloured sunglasses and her brother Estha was considered the serious and responsible twin who always had an Elvis puff.  Their mother, Ammu, had made two mistakes that changed the lives of everyone. After a bitter separation from her husband, she returned home with her kids. She lived with her old mother (a widow), her aunt (a spinster) and her brother Chacko (whose wife left him for another man after their child was born). It was a perfect example of a broken family in which every member lost something. When Chacko’s ex-wife Margaret and daughter, Sophie come to visit them for Christmas, things unexpectedly get way out of hand, get murkier and changed every single person’s life. The events of those two weeks left each member with scars that stayed fresh as long as they lived.

The portrayal of ‘different’ kinds of love has been depicted beautifully in this book. Unrequited love, failed love, undemanding love, forced love, and most importantly “forbidden love”. Ammu’s aunt remained a spinster her entire life when she realised that she couldn’t get the man she loved, when her love was unrequited. She did whatever she could to keep the unrequited love alive, even after the man died. Chacko’s failed marriage paints a picture of failed love but the way he still loved his wife even though she cheated on him depicts the unconditional part of love. He never remarried and loved his daughter even though he stayed away from her. Rahel was made to believe that she had to love her cousin Sophie, just because she was family. Ammu loved an untouchable, which was forbidden. Another example of forbidden love mentioned was between the twins which eventually resulted in incest. (This surely must have stirred up some controversy!) Rahel beautifully reasoned the cause for all this was because Love Laws were not made properly. “The laws that lay down who should be loved, how and how much.”

Everyone shared the emotion of love but it brought different experiences for everyone. Uncannily, loss and betrayal of some form was also shared between all.  The events scarred the young twins and they carried the guilt and regret throughout their life, because of their childhood mistakes. They had almost a perfect childhood and were loved and cared by many people (minus the father), but the innocent mistakes of the past left everyone hating them and they grew up as lonely adults, whom no one could understand and they ended up seeking each other’s company in the end. Everyone grieved their respective loss silently and alone.

Arundhati’s writing is like poetry. It comes effortlessly and makes ugly things look beautiful. Everybody’s character is sketched in great detail, thus making it easier to understand and justify their actions and reactions throughout the book. The only minus of the book is that certain parts have gross description and might not be appreciated by the readers. But this is to show how some incidents that scar a child is remembered in minute details and no matter how hard it’s tried, some things just cannot be forgotten. The playfulness, the fixation and repetition of some phrases, these qualities are suggestive of a child's stream-of-consciousness. This works very well for parts of the novel told from children's viewpoints. The narrative is non-sequential. The events mentioned are like pieces of a puzzle which are put together slowly till the very end and once the puzzle is finished one can see a sad but beautiful story. This book is a perfect example of how a simple, regular story can be taken to another level just by writing and expressing it beautifully. The twins who led a normal life as naughty, rebellious kids, grew up (in their words) to be ‘emptiness’ and ‘quietness’ as adults, who were never understood by anyone but each other. Once you turn the last page you will definitely have a moment of ‘quietness’ as then the story completely sinks in and intensity of the emotions in the story is felt but it will surely not leave you with a feeling of ‘emptiness’. This book certainly deserved the Booker prize. But more than that, it deserves a read. Because it’s beautiful. And surreal.