North and South Episode 4

Margaret Hale and John Thornton, such a lovely pair. I’m no romantic, but I can hardly stop myself from replaying the last scene again and again, it’s so wonderfully picturised.

Thornton’s mill is in bad shape, and even a collaboration with the out-of-work Higgins to improve the conditions doesn’t work out. He refuses to engage in speculation with his sister Fanny’s husband, owing to what happened to his father. Margaret’s father passes away and she moves to London. She comes into money when her father’s friend wills his possessions to her, and she decides to invest her inheritance in restoring Thornton’s mill.

The chemistry between Margaret and Thornton is very cute, lovely in its quaintness. Their final romantic meeting is picturised in bright colours in contrast to the dull greys that dominate their previous encounters, depicting a new rosy beginning for both of them (I so fell for Armitage’s smile). Once again, I’ll say, I’m not a romantic: I usually roll my eyes at the final kiss, but I didn’t feel cynical at all when N&S ended. A word about Thornton’s mother: I thought she was like the Wicked Witch, but I was quite wrong. She is haughty, but she cares very much for her son, and is willing to endure poverty for his sake. A very strong performance by Sinead Cusack. Brendan Coyle as Nicholas Higgins was like this polar bear: gruff exterior, but warm heart. He was like the fairy godfather for the couple, building the bridges which brought them together.

This series has really inspired me to search out more BBC dramas. Right now, I’m on to Pride and Prejudice. If you have any suggestions, do share them with me.

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North and South Episode 3

I thought N&S was similar to Pride and Prejudice, but the differences clearly showed in this episode. While P&P is more about attraction between opposites, N&S has darker undercurrents throughout. It is not just a love story; it is also a story about the industrial workers, their lives and the difficulties they face.

Well, Margaret’s mother grows sicker by the day, and she has written to her brother Frederick to come. Frederick was involved in a mutiny, and he will be courtmartialled and hanged if he is found in England. Meanwhile, Margaret goes to London to visit an industrial fair, and comes face to face with Thornton for the first time since he proposed to her, and is much impressed by his views. Frederick arrives in Milton and Margaret has to hide a lot of things from the townspeople, especially Thornton, which complicates things between them.

This episode is full of tense moments. It is much darker than the previous ones, and the gloom of death hangs over the episode. I thought that the episode was a little hurried, events tumbling on one another. I’d have preferred the story to be a little more fleshed out. Anyways, I’m on to the final episode, the climax to a nice journey through industrial England. The couple will be together, Thornton will give his killer smile and…well, nothing. If you haven’t seen this miniseries, and aren’t too mad at me for writing all about it (seriously, I tried very hard to avoid spoilers), then please go watch it and tell me what you thought.

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Author Feature: George Orwell

This month I'm featuring an author who I think has influenced a lot of my thinking. It's his 106th birth anniversary of Orwell today, and I wonder what he'd have to say about the current state of affairs.

Brief Bio: George Orwell was born Eric Blair in the Bengal Presidency in British India, on 25 June 1903. He spent his schooling and college life in England, before signing up for the Indian Imperial Police and moving to Burma. After 5 years, he contracted dengue fever and returned to England, deciding to be a writer. His Burma police experiences yielded his first novel Burmese Days, along with a couple of essays. He wrote a couple of novels about economically depressed England in the 1930s, and also was briefly involved in the Spanish Civil War, the experiences of which were chronicled in Homage to Catalonia. During World War II, he wrote for the Tribune and the Observer, while working on his satirical masterpiece Animal Farm. He followed it up with another of his best known works, 1984, written during a time when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Orwell died on 21 January 1950 of a burst artery in his lungs, and was buried in Oxfordshire. His gravestone bears the simple epitaph: "Here lies Eric Arthur Blair, born 25 June 1903, died 21 January 1950"; no mention is made on the gravestone of his more famous pen-name.

Selected Bibliography:

Animal Farm
Burmese Days
Homage to Catalonia
The Road to Wigan Pier

My Reviews:
Animal Farm

My Views: I really think that George Orwell is one of the greatest satirical writers of the English language. His writing is simple, no flowery language, no convoluted descriptions, nothing that would go over an average person's head or make his books difficult to read. In his essay, Politics and the English Language, Orwell provides six rules for writers:
  • Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used to seeing in print.
  • Never use a long word where a short one will do.
  • If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
  • Never use the passive voice where you can use the active.
  • Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent.
  • Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
His books have contributed to a number of ideas such as the Thought Police and Big Brother, words that have become a part of the English language, concepts that are so relevant in this age of heightened surveillance (though Big Brother is now more associated with the dumb TV show than Orwell's invisible puppet master). His essays are also very topical and give you an insight into the mind of a great writer and are a snapshot of the tumultous political situation in the World War era. Also, he was one of the very few writers who did not get caught up in the Soviet socialism romance and called out Stalin for what he was. At a time when the world was courting the USSR, he wrote Animal Farm. He also foresaw the advent of intrusive surveillance quite a long time ago, and while I strongly believe that things will not be as awful as 1984, I am pretty wary as the government adds enhanced snooping capacities to its arsenal.

It's not easy to appreciate Orwell's books in a single reading. Every time I sit with them, I discover something new, something I missed the previous time I read it. I am able to draw parallels in today's world as well, to countries that have adopted the 1984 model quite chillingly. To give you just a small example: I realised that the events in 1984 not just resembled the political and social situation in the USSR and Germany, but also in modern day Myanmar and North Korea. Orwell's works explore every facet of literature, psychology and political science, and provoke every reader to question their surroundings and be more vocal in expressing their beliefs.

Have you read any of Orwell's writings? What did you think of them?

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North and South Episode 2

I reviewed the first episode of North and South last week, and the series continues. Richard Armitage is just perfect as the brooding, haughty mill owner, I could probably spend this entire post talking about him, but I'll try not to.

Margaret Hale is finding her way about Milton, visitng the workers, making friends with Higgin's sick daughter Bessie. Her mother is falling ill due to the unhealthy atmosphere and wishes to see her son, Frederick, before she dies. Higgins is organizing a strike against the rich mill owners, demanding higher wages and better living conditions. Thornton takes a decision that could endanger his life, as the situation in this small town heats up.

The performances in this episode, well, in this series as such, is superb. I especially liked Sinead Cusack as Hannah, the nose-in-the-air mother of Thornton- her disdain for the workers drips like rainwater throughout. And Armitage, well, the piercing look, the arched nose, the crooked smile, the stern face. He is giving Colin Firth some serious competition as the perfect Victorian gentleman, and sparks fly whenever Thornton and Margaret lock eyes. The proposal scene was just so perfectly executed, I was rooting for Thornton and cursing Margaret for refusing. It was quite the opposite with Pride and Prejudice: I always supported Elizabeth's initial refusal, Darcy's proposal was too arrogantly put. You know, I wondered about the astonishing similarities with P&P. The basic plot is the same: proud man falls in love with strong-willed woman who refuses him, only to learn of all his good qualities later. Put P&P in an industrial setting: N&S is what you get. The initial war of words between the two, the proposal scene, it's like watching P&P again. Was this kind of plot as common then as it is now?

As I write this, the proposal scene is playing on my computer. The music builds to a crescendo as an angry Thornton walks out, delivering his parting stab. I'm starting on the next episode in a short while, expect a review soon.

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REVIEW Sloppy Firsts: Megan McCafferty


It's interesting to see how things turn out- I started this book thinking it was yet another whiny teen's sob story, but I kinda liked how it turned out. The heroine was so different from others I have read that I was actually a little surprised when the ending came- I never realised I was so engrossed in the book.

Sloppy Firsts is the journal of hyperobservant Jessica Darling, a sophomore at Pineville High. Jessica's best friend Hope has just moved away, depriving her of her closest confidante. Jess has to face the inanities of the Clueless Crew on her own, deal with the mystery that is Marcus Flutie a.k.a Krispy Kreme, the resident junkie, and live through her annoying sister's wedding plans.

The book has most of the high school cliches- the hot girls clique, dumb jocks, mystery dude who the girl hates at first. But what set this book apart from the rest was the sarcastic voice of the narrator. She is not the sort where you feel like jumping into the book and telling her how dumb and blind she is; on the contrary she sees and understands what goes on around her, and lambasts it in her typical way. What put me off a little were the numerous pop-culture references that usually dot such books, but then it's a book for American teens, you can't escape them. Jessica's story of walking through the minefield that is high school makes for interesting reading, but I'm not very sure how she'll sustain the angst in later books without making it sound like overkill. Anyways, I'm interested in how Jessica's and Marcus' story develops further, so I'm keeping Second Helpings on my TBR.

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REVIEW New Moon: Stephenie Meyer


The inspiration for this book seems to be Romeo and Juliet, more importantly, how would Juliet react if she and Romeo had beens separated? According to the book, she would clutch at her heart at every instant and become a zombie. Note to all: Bella is no Juliet. The only reason I actually finished this book and might read the two remaining ones is that I don't want to leave the series unfinished, especially one as hyped as this. And I enjoy a good roast in my reviews.

New Moon catches up with Bella with about six months having elapsed after the events of Twilight (read my review here). After a small cut reveals the danger of being with a vampire family, Edward dumps her and the Cullen family leave town. Bella is heart-broken, devastated (add choice of apocalyptic adjective here) and withdraws into a shell. Then she catches up with an old friend Jacob, and finds solace in his company, but is he good enough to replace the void that Edward has left in her life?

Bella is easily the weakest heroine I have ever met. She can't seem to live without a man in her life, and when Edward leaves her, she makes Jacob her crutch. The way she leads Jake on was really cruel. When he had problems of his own, all she could think about was how she needed him, what he had to do for her. Is that what teens should understand from friendship- how useful your friend is to you? And all that rubbish about hole in the chest, gasping for air (seriously, she needs an inhaler)! I understand that she's 18 years old, and at that age, your first love seems like your true love, but this book takes it too far. Teen romances about girls mooning over their first crush have a vein of sarcasm running through them, but this book treats it like gospel truth. Give me a break! When she decided to go dirt racing, I thought she had actually gotten over her Hotness Monster and decided to have some fun, but the next sentence about dying to hear Edward's voice in her head and enjoying the mental instability crushed my hopes.

I tried to find something nice to say about this book, I really did. I tried to understand what made this series such a superhit, but I confess, I can't think of a single reason why. I really did not want to write such a negative review, but I couldn't hold the words back. If you love this series, please help me understand why.

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North and South Episode 1

I promised I would be posting regular reviews of the episodes of North and South, and here I am. Though I first started watching the miniseries solely for Richard Armitage, I am now drawn into the story and the crackling conflict between the two leading characters, so reminiscent of Pride and Prejudice.

Margaret Hale moves from the prosperous south to the industrial north of England, and finds it difficult to adjust to her new surroundings. She comes in instant conflict with a prosperous cotton mill owner, John Thornton, when she sees him beating up his worker. She also meets Nicholas Higgins, a mill worker whose daughter moved to work in Thornton's mill after she fell ill at her earlier job.

What I found different is the industrial setting of the story: it is not somethiing I have seen much off. Usually, period dramas involve the daily going-ons of the middle and upper class, so to see the industrial populations' issues being depicted was refreshing. I also liked the use of lighting and colour- bright gay colours to depict Margaret's affluent southern life, contrasting with sombre greys and blacks of her new working class surroundings. Margaret has shades of Elizabeth in her- she speaks her mind and is quick to form opinions. She dislikes the grime and noise of her new home, and disapproves of the people, comparing them (especially Thornton) unfavorably to the southerners. She ends the episode saying:
I wish I could tell you how lonely I am. How cold and harsh it is here. Everywhere there is conflict and unkindness. I think God has forsaken this place. I believe I have seen hell and it's white, it's snow-white.

Well, I'm off to watch the second episode, and if you haven't seen it, do try to see it. If you do, tell me what you thought.

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2009 Top 9 Bollywood Tunes

My top tunes from the last six months. It took quite a bit of thinking, as I couldn't remember 9 songs that particularly stood out, except for the Delhi 6 soundtrack, and a couple of songs from Dev D. Movies included are those released in 2009 (though the music may have released earlier)

1. Masakali (Delhi 6): Who doesn't love this song? The opening vocals are strikingly awesome and just draw you into the song. Mohit Chauhan's drawling voice, A.R. Rehman's awesome music, and of course, the pigeon- just some things that put this song at the top of my Hindi playlist.

2. Emosanal Attyachaar (Dev D): This is the 'in' song for broken hearts and single guys. Nasal, funny and completely irreverent, this song is not for everyone, but I never get tired of listening to it.

3. Aasma Odh Kar (13B): A really nice, soft song, and a surprise find (this movie has been made as Yavarum Nalam in Tamil too). Chitra's voice is sweeter than honey, and I thought she stole this duet away from Shankar Mahadevan.

4. Arziyan/Maula Maula (Delhi 6): I didn't want a movie to be repeated, but this track so blew my mind away that I had to include it. Reminds me (as if I needed reminding) of why I love Kailash Kher.

5. Sapnon Se Bhare Naina (Luck By Chance): I really liked the classical feel of this song, and the lyrics are so pertinent. I usually listen to this song when I'm a little off-colour- it strikes a chord.

6. Maahi (Raaz 2): Interesting song. Composed and sung by one of my mom's favorite contestants on the reality singing show Voice of India, I found it pretty good: Western beats with Sufi influences.

7. Nazaara Hai (8X10 Tasveer): The movie apparently flopped, but this song stayed on. A nice rock number, with shades of Rock On in it. Biggest failing: the 'hai', which sounds like the chorus is puking.

8. Aa Dekhen Zara (Aa Dekhen Zara): This is essentially a remix of an old song, but they didn't ruin it like I had heard another DJ do it. Neil Nitin Mukesh sang this himself, and he hasn't done a bad job.

9. Chandni Chowk to China (Chandni Chowk to China): No, it's not part of my favorites, but I needed to complete the 9 for 09. Well, to tell the truth, I found the song funny initially, but repeated listening took its toll.

Do you like my list? I know I missed out a couple of awesome songs, but I didn't want the list to be repititive: it probably would have had only Delhi 6 and Dev D and a couple of songs from 13B. Tell me about your favorite Bollywood tunes.

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REVIEW Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony: Eoin Colfer


I jumped straight to Book 5 in the series, not because I didn't get Book 2, but I like reading a series in mixed-up order. It gives you a sense of what lies ahead, and also lets you see if the author has retained the magic touch which initially drew you to his books.

Artemis Fowl and the Lost Colony finds Artemis interested in demons, the eighth family of fairies. Demons are trapped in limbo on their island of Hybras, but the spell holding the island in its state of timelessness is deteriorating, and demons are popping up here and there. Holly Short is sent to find out how much he knows, and before you know it, all of them are swept up in an adventure to protect the demons.

This book is different from the first in the sense that there is a lot of magic in the book. I missed the gadgetry of the first book. The plot is also a bit hurried near the end, with a lot of events tumbling over each other. But it's enjoyable, fun. A good thing is that Colfer doesn't follow a tried and tested formula, there is no background which you have to know, so that leaves room to experiment with the story. We meet a lot of new characters, but I missed Root's bluster quite a lot. In this book, Artemis also has competition, in the form of Minerva Paradizo, an equally brilliant child prodigy who is after the demon as well. She gives Artemis an intellectual challenge, and stirs his adolescent side as well. I saw a different side of Artemis: he didn't do things just to attain his goal, but to help others, showing a maturing in his personality. But somehow I preferred the self-centred boy to this do-gooder teenager. His crystal-cool demeanor and his sharp brain are as good as ever, and the solutions he finds to the various crises are well created. I liked this book, thought it was a nice read as I plow through Midnight's Children (I am determined to finish that book, hopefully before August).

Have you read this instalment in the Artemis series? What did you think about it?

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REVIEW Shonar Kella (The Golden Fort): Satyajit Ray


This is one of my favorite Bengali books, one I read after I had just learnt to read Bengali. It has a special place on my bookshelf- a book I read again and again.

Pradosh Mitter a.k.a. Feluda is a private investigator hired by Mr. Dhar to protect his son, Mukul. Mukul is a young boy who has visions of his past life, and Dr. Hajra, an eminent parapsychologist deciphers the place of his dreams to be Rajasthan, and takes him there, hoping to shed light on such matters. Feluda, along with his cousin Topshe, travel to Rajasthan, and thus begins a adventure in the golden sands.

This is a really enjoyable detective story, simple in its plot yet elegant in its construction. There is a wealth of information and I learned a lot about Rajasthan. The writing is humorous, though many jokes are best rendered in Bengali, and I am not very sure how they can be translated without losing the essence of the joke. Ray's Feluda books are a must-read for lovers of detective fiction and if you can get your hands on a copy, please do read them. A movie has also been made on this book by Ray himself, and captures its essence well on celluloid.

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