Tuesday, November 22, 2011


This is a short story I wrote for the Diwali issue.

Reva smiled a “secret” smile. The “mean girls” won't know what hit them.
She knocked politely on the door. The knock was drowned in the sound of laughter and giggles coming from inside the room. Someone cried out, “Shalu...you are priceless. What happened next?”
Reva knocked again. More giggles. Reva knocked a little loudly for the third time.
This time someone said, “Someone at the door, do you think?”
You sure...I didn't hear anything,” said Shweta.
Must be that pesky sister of yours,” someone added as Shweta got up from the bed to unbolt the door.
But before she could pull back the bolt, there was an earth-shattering RATATATATTAT for three times in a row.
Shweta jumped back in fright, while her friends screamed, “REVA...WHAT THE HELL?”
Reva giggled quietly and knocked on the door again.
The door opened and ignoring Shweta's and her friends murderous looks, Reva walked into the room like a cool cat.
Nice earrings, Amrita di,” Reva called out as she went to her table.
What do you want, Reva?” Shweta asked. “We are busy completing our project here.”
Oh Di...I also have to complete a project on History. On Harrappan valley civilisation. Will you help me please?” Reva pleaded.
Not now..Reva. We have to finish our group project,” said Sheweta.
Before Reva could reply, Kajal di butted in, “Reva...you need to polish those grey cells a bit. And, hurry up with those books.”
Reva smiled sweetly, “Thanks Kajal di. I will be out in a minute.”
She started rummaging through her books, pens and pencils while others looked at Reva
and then at each other.
Like all younger sisters, Reva was a tag-along-kind. Always wanting to follow around, listen in her elder sister's talk with her friends and then spilling out the information innocently at the dining table. No wonder Shweta and her friends wanted to wring her neck.
Just like Reva to interrupt us,” Shalu murmured.
She was itching to complete the latest goss about the cool dude in college, but knowing Reva's loose tongue, hugged the secret to herself.
Reva knew that there was something on...she could feel the suppressed excitement, so she settled comfortably on the bed, stacking books and chart papers, searching for markers and pencils.
The girls looked at Shweta with raised eye-brows.
Reva...why don't you go in Dad's study? We have already begun on our project here. I will help carry your books and charts,” Shweta said.
Oh Di! Thanks so much. Here are the books,” she pushed the pile into Shweta's hands.
There was a collective sigh of relief when Reva went out of the room.
Shweta came back quickly and securely locked the door.
Ah...Shalu...begin,” she said.
Soon they were giggling as before. When the giggles lessened, they heard a knock on the door.
Who is this?” cried out irritaed Shweta.
Di...it's me. I am sorry, but...” the door opened and Reva entered the room with downcast eyes.
Shweta Di... I seem to have misplaced my red marker. Can I borrow yours, pleeeeeeeeease?” she continued with downcast eyes.
Kajal grabbed markers – in red, green, black and orange colours – and thrust them in Reva's hands, “Off with you now Reva.”
Reva took the pens and when she reached the door, turned around with a jaunty smile and said, “Blue nail paint doesn't go with the red blouse Kajal Di. How come you are wearing flats Kajal Di? You are not going out with Rohit Da today?”
Kajal rushed at Reva with “You....eavesdropping kid. Wait and I will show you.” But Reva had already sped away to the safety of her study.
Kajal turned to Shweta, “She is a wretch. Do something about her.”
Reva, meanwhile, was falling from the bed with an awful stitch in her sides.
After sometime she heard sound of the girls clearing away their drawing boards etc.
Reva hung around the door till she heard Shalu say, “Kajal...will Geetu be there at your place?”
That's all that Reva wanted to hear.
She sped away to the telephone connection in her parents bedroom.
Geetu...it's me,” she squealed into the phone. “It's your chance for revenge. All the Best.”

Monday, November 14, 2011

First Ladies of the Raj

By: Penny and Roger Beaumont
Publisher:  Jaico
Pages: 388
Price: Rs 395

After reading this book, you will realise how brief were the History lessons that they taught in schools. Well, this book isn’t exactly an objective portrayal of the British rule in India; it mainly paints the picture of the Empire’s colony as seen by the Vicereines of British India. But you do get a peek — often repetitive — of the happenings, pomp and splendour in the Government House (later known as the Viceroy’s House), and the lives of its occupants, through the book’s eight chapters.
These chapters talk about the Vicereines, their views and apprehensions about ruling the colony, their devotion to their husbands and children, and of course, about their subjects, especially the quick-to-judge British and Anglo-Indian societies. The book reveals how the lives of the Vicereines were often lonesome. That was a price they had to pay to be the invisible Empresses of the Raj.
The book’s mainstay is the private diaries of the Vicereines, the letters they exchanged with their families, the gushing media reports and the private accounts of their staff. The language, especially the quotes expressing the views of the respective Vicereines, is very plain. The accompanying paragraphs that explain the context are very long and repetitive, and do not really throw any light on the situation described.
What sets the book apart from the History lessons in school and the contemporary books on Raj, is its focus on the most unlikely (or long forgotten) Vicereines: Hariot Dufferin and Mary Curzon among others. Of course the book doesn’t neglect Lady Edwina Mountbatten whose role during India’s independence and the Partition, and her perceived relationship with prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru have been discussed.
Hariot Dufferin was the first Vicereine to push for changes in the medical health of Indian women. She utilised the Countess of Dufferin’s Fund to provide medical facilites to women in India. Her initiative led to many other Vicereines pitching in for various causes. Vicereine Doreen Linlithgow’s legacy was to eradicate tuberculosis which was then widespread throughout India.
Several of the Vicereines were not popular: Mary Curzon wasn’t exactly welcomed with open arms by the British and Anglo-Indian societies. An American-born, she wasn’t considered as "one of us" by the British society in India. Similarly, Vicereine Marie Willingdon’s interference in architect Edwin Landseer Lutyens’s plans for the new Viceroy’s House in Delhi (now the Rashtrapati Bhavan) frustrated the architect. Lutyen was ready to throw in his hat because of Vicereine Willingdon’s "very brusque and rude behaviour." Her successor, Vicereine Linlithgow, however, decided to endorse Lutyen’s design.
The book also offers many unknown or forgotten nuggets, like how Simla was despised by almost all the Vicereines. It was only after the Vicereines took up several charitable causes that Simla’s "fast" and "racy" reputation became more "appropriate." On the whole, this book is informative.

Did this book review last month.

Invisible Empresses of the Raj