Twinkling Mrs Funnybones

 

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Reading a book by someone whose name “rhymes with sprinkle and wrinkle”? I don’t think so. That, by the way, is not me taking a jab at the author Twinkle Khanna, but one of the very candid digs at herself that Mrs Funnybones makes during the course of the book. And this is what made me pick up the book. Honestly, despite all their chic poise and impeccable dressing sense, I don’t have a particularly great opinion of our Bollywood starlets. Jokes on Alia Bhatt’s intellect are by now stale and have you ever heard the style diva Sonam talk? My point simply is that when it comes to matters of the brain, even our new age leading ladies leave plenty to be desired.

So, it was with a lot of scepticism that I had read Twinkle Khanna’s column a while ago. In fact a friend sent me the link and I was pleasantly surprised. Not that I became her avid reader. I would read it whenever she sent me the link, have a good laugh and that was it. Purchasing the book was more a matter of necessity rather than choice- on my flight from Bangalore to Chandigarh, I didn’t have too many options to kill time. It was then that the Twinkling Mrs Funnybones came to my rescue. And truth be told, I enjoyed every bit of it.

First things first, the book isn’t going to go down annals of Indian writing in English as a trailblazer or anything of the sort and it’s not meant to either. What it in fact does do is give you few good laughs as Twinkle Khanna takes you on a roller coaster ride through the trials and tribulations of a working mother. If you are expecting any voyeurish peeps into the life of the rich and famous Bollywood couple, you’ll be sorely disappointed.Quite to the contrary, it is this very down to earth, easy to relate tone and setting that makes the book immensely readable and likeable. The Bollywood superstar husband, like most husbands, makes fleeting appearances in his wife’s life and is given due tongue in cheek deference as the “man of the house”. The only peep you get into this 5 star life is the rather infamous incident of her unbuttoning her husband’s jeans at a fashion show. And that too sans any drama but with all of her trademark humour. Yesteryears sexy Bobby is just another annoying yet lovable mother, who, like all mothers, has done innumerable things down the years to traumatize her daughter at different stages in her life, starting with naming her “Twinkle”!! Her 11 something year old boy is rightly referred to as the “prodigal son” and the little baby, as, well, the baby. Like most married women, her life involves juggling around work, family and numerous other chores as well that were until late taken care of by men but are now dumped, among other things, on women. With a battery of “domestic wonders” and likes of Mansukh Bhai, the internet man, at her disposal, her life is definitely better than most women but at the end of the day it’s the same universal issues that she’s dealing with – growing up children, recalcitrant mom in law etc etc.

Her style is rather like that of Bridget Jones novels- perhaps it’s the chronological narration of the day and events that give this impression or the overall nonchalant air, but Bridget Jones is what came to mind as I started reading the book. Lucid, easy going, it carries the reader through. Since it is a collection of her columns, one can leave it anywhere and pick up any chapter randomly and start reading. Funny and light as the book is, she often touches a nerve and makes you sit back and think…as she reflects while saying good bye to her son, who is going on a school trip – “ One day he will be in my place and what he will learn is that trying and holding on are complicated and challenging things, but the most difficult thing in life is to love fiercely  and then let go”.

Yes, so it is. Life is a myriad blend of the lofty and the banal and the more you can laugh and carry on, easier it is. Mrs Funnybones does exactly that making it a worthwhile read.

Full nonsense – Half Girlfriend

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“My school needing toilet as nobody able to toileting when toilet time coming”

If you thought this was one of the latest Santa-Banta jokes doing the rounds on watsapp, think again. This  instead is a line spoken by Madhav, the hero of Chetan Bhagat’s latest work “Half Girlfriend” as he tries to prepare a speech for, hold your breath, none other than Bill Gates. And this is the state of his spoken English after having graduated from, yes hold your breath again, St Stephen’s college.

For a long time I’ve wondered how Chetan Bhagat managed to become the bestselling author in India. Then recently somewhere I read about him wanting to “make India read” and it all made sense. His books, by his own admission, are not for the classes but for the masses. And in our country if you can produce something- a good, a service, a movie or a book – that caters to the masses, you’ve got a winner on your hands. Who can beat the collective power of the teeming millions? And a book that costs less than a pizza, is written in the manner of spoken English, complete with the Bihari/Bhojpuri touch to it, gives you a glimpse into the hallowed portals of St Stephen’s College (or as pointed in the book “English types call it- Steven’s”) and takes you through a hurried trip of Manhattan, it is bound to be a winner- at least sales number wise.

Before I attract the wrath of the all the torchbearers of “Hindi our mother tongue” bandwagon, let me clarify that I have nothing against Hindi. In fact, this whole mentality of equating English speaking with well educated and cultured as opposed to Hindi speaking with the lower class and uneducated reeks of a colonial mindset just like equating fair skinned with beautiful. Neither am I making a case for High art that caters to the elite as opposed to pop art for the commoner. In today’s world of fusion, this line stands blurred.

My problem with Half Girlfriend, quite to the contrary is that it does nothing to break these stereotypes. Instead, it reinforces them. The protagonist “Myself Madhav Jha”, despite his relentless pursuit of Riya, the rich English speaking Marwari babe fails to convince us of his “love” for her. All that one sees is a boy from the backwaters of Bihar besotted by a girl who seems straight out of a Bollywood movie. Despite Riya making it very clear that she is not interested in Madhav in “that way”, that a no means a no, just does not sink into him. In fact, that he cannot speak English has nothing at all to do with her refusal. She just does not feel that way for him and one can see Riya’s point of view. Instead of a rapid English speaking course that the book contains for free, what Mr Bhagat could have tried to teach the Madhav Jha’s of our country is to learn to accept a girl’s no as a no. Bursting into crass vulgar Hindi when an English-speaking girl refuses to go to bed with you isn’t exactly the best way to bridge the gap between the “English speaking monsters” and those who still introduce themselves as “Myself so and so”.

For all his championing of women’s causes and telling men to respect women, Chetan Bhagat’s protagonist fails to show the same respect towards the heroine. The book rambles on, with all the predictable twists and turns of a Bollywood movie to reach a Karan Johar type denouement in the bars of New York. Only if all “love stories” could start from Dumraon and end in Manhattan! And only if Chetan Bhagat could, for once, have broken the clichés instead of reinforcing them. That however is not to be. As for the whole “English bashing” in the book, all I can say is by way of a quote from the book itself – that English is a “global language” rather than a “foreign language”. It is all very well to be proud of and know your mother tongue. But to do so by belittling the English language or its speakers reeks more of a colonial mindset than learning the language that suits your needs and carrying on.

 

 

Right Here Right Now- Nikita Singh

Right here “Can you find yourself when you don’t remember who you were?” “Can she have a peaceful present and future, without a past? Can she just live in the here and now?” These lines on the back of the book “Right Here Right Now” are what made me pick up the book. A blank mind, tabula rasa; living in the present moment; starting your life afresh with no past to bind you down; a second chance at life- what immense possibilities! Sadly, I realised that the problem is not the book but my expectations from it. I had never heard of the writer and had no idea what to expect. Today when you pick up a Chetan Bhagat book, you are not looking for any literary masterpiece but a just about readable story that for some reason goes onto become a best seller and have a movie based on it. Had I known about the author, I would have had a better idea about what to expect- a teenage love story, which is what it seems the author is best known for. No profound tabula rasas and clean slates please!! The best way to describe it is as a Karan Johar candyfloss romance, say Student of the Year, in print. There is no Barbie land kind of school full of latest brands and styles but yes, there is the cool coterie that is pretty close to the Student of the Year’s richie rich crowd. The protagonist, 17 year old Kalindi Mishra, in fact is a part of this snobbish group that looks down on everyone else, wears colour coordinated cool clothes, has boyfriends/girlfriends- basically the hep ones that consider it below their dignity to even acknowledge others especially the “nerds”. That, however, was before her accident. Post the accident, about which we are given no answers, she is a different person altogether, trying to find her place among old friends, with whom she can no longer identify and the new ones, whom she had looked down upon until her accident. Incidentally, is this “no answers to obvious questions” the latest trend in fiction? A Bad Chararcter (read my review here)too left a lot of whys unanswered. The story is rather clichéd and predictable in its portrayal of the cool vs nerd school gangs; the spoilt teenage brat who is an enigma to her family and even the personality change that Kalindi goes through. Where it could have brought in novelty is in the exploration of the nightmares that haunt Kalindi, delving into her subconscious and by giving a little more information about her accident. However, these are left untouched or at best touched very cursorily. The style is conversational- nothing original or striking here either. A Bad Character, on the other hand, had something to offer by way of style and presentation. Overall, it’s probably a good enough read for teenagers and the college going crowd. Others can easily give it a miss..No losses here! If you just want to kill time, you could instead watch Student of the Year.