Category Archives: Readaholism

Anuja Chauhan’s Baaz: Definitely not a Turd

The first time I heard about Anuja Chauhan was in my favourite bookstore, sipping on coffee, when my friends and I were talking about books we’d read and loved. It was 2013, and she’d just read The Zoya Factor, and I was a literary snob (aka a dumbshit who needed a whacking from the present me). Since then, I’ve spent a year studying Indian Writing in English, and now I read anything that’s not Chetan Bhagat (I still have some taste).  This year, blessed with a New Kindle, and the glory that comes with it, I read, for the very first time that book that intrigued me all those years ago with my favourite people at my favourite place. To be honest, I was quite disappointed. It was quite shitty, according to me.

Cut to five months later, I heard she’s coming out with a new book. I really didn’t want to read it, but I thought if people don’t shit on her as much as they do on Chetan Bhagat, she must have done something right (sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve read Chetan Bhagat, maybe I forgot how bad he is- I probably shouldn’t compare). So I read BaazAnd it was the opposite of what I thought it would be.

Baaz is the story of an Air Force Pilot- the very best one in his batch. Ishaan is Baaz, for his eagle-like flying abilities, but also because he’s a bastard. His step father is a zamindar who hates his guts. His maternal grandfather sowed the dream of being an IAF pilot in young Ishaan, who as young impressionable boys wont to do, internalised this dream without questioning it. The fact that he was a naughty (stupid​) little boy who did reckless things for adrenaline rush probably helped. Point is, he enrolled himself in the Flying College, got through it effortlessly, and inculcated the values and ideologies of Defense personell. This is not just a plot point, but also the major conflict in what is, primarily a romance.

In stark contrast, Tinka, born and raised in the US (the reason why this is important gets clearer later in the narrative), influenced by John Lennon’s Imagine, is completely anti-war and anti-violence. She’s a Parsi, a photographer, and she unapologetically stands up for what she believes in. Her father is an ex-Army personell, and much of her family is in the Defence Forces, including her brother who dies, and is taught about in the Defence Academies. (Spoiler Alert: The truth of his death made me close the book and shed a quite tear). Her father cuts her off because she runs away to Bombay, instead of getting married. She becomes the model in the very first Indian advertisement featuring a bikini. She does it for the money to continue photography. But, of course, she gets slut-shamed for it.

This is as much the story of the Indo-Pakistan War of 1971 as much as it is of Ishaan (Shanu) and Tinka. A direct nod to the Military, and a simultaneousfuck youto the very concept of war. Multiple times in the text, Chauhan (mock?) praises the bravery of the Military, while juxtaposing the individual in battle who ultimately suffers. Ishaan and his friends gets lost. One of them loses a limb. Jimmy, Yinka’s brother, kills six Pakistanis after his tank becomes useless. He kills them with his bare hands. He becomes the hero of the nation. Then he shoots himself in the head. Many we know througout the novel die. Chauhan, through Tinka asks what’s the point? She talks about the kind of people who enter this workforce – the poor, looking for a Middle class alleviation. The army brats who are forced. The army brats who probably don’t know better. She questions the rationale of war.

“Tinka- I shot him down, I cut down his body and yanked the clothes off his charred corpse. I do not want to look at pictures of his daughters.”

“Why the hell should I feel guilty, anyway? Sure, I chewed up Bilawal Hussain – the others ejected, I saw their chutes, so I know it was just the one guy. But what about Raka? They shot him up so badly, he’d be better off dead, the poor chap.”

She raises her chin, her face mutinous.

“Raka will get better,” she says firmly. “Also, that’s bullshit logic, and you know it.”

 

Throughout my reading of the entire book, a single quote ran through my mind.

The world is run by one million evil men, ten million stupid men, and a hundred million cowards… The evil men are the power–the rich men, and the politicians, and the fanatics of religion–whose decisions rule the world, and set it on its course of greed and destruction.
There are only one million of them, the truly evil men, in the whole world. The very rich and the very powerful, whose decisions really count–they only number one million. The stupid men, who number ten million, are the soldiers and policemen who enforce the rule of the evil men. They are the standing armies of twelve key countries, and the police forces of those and twenty more. In total, there are only ten million of them with any real power or consequence. They are often brave, I’m sure, but they are stupid, too, because they give their lives for governments and causes that use their flesh and blood as mere chess pieces. Those governments always betray them or let them down or abandon them, in the long run. Nations neglect no men more shamefully than the heroes of their wars.

 

What I personally enjoyed about the book was some of those terrible puns (Kuch Bhi Carvahlo, for example). She literally made me laugh out loud at a couple of points in the book. (I’m surprised nobody ever called Ishaan Baaz Turd, though. But then again, my terrible puns are the worst kinds of terrible puns). I also loved how much time she spent describing Ishaan (delish, that boy). Physically and his cockyness. (Right up my alley, if he weren’t in the military). I’ve never gotten to read physical descriptions of guys in this much detail, while the girl’s physique was thoroughly deemphasized. (Of course she wears a bikini and guys go crazy, but we don’t know what colour her eyes are, or what she’s wearing at the moment, which almost never happens). I like how Ishaan gets confused about basic (to me) English words.

I’m not calling this the best book I’ve read this year. I’m not calling it flawless, or a literary masterpiece either. But it was a definite cheap thrill. Anuja Chauhan has definitely grown as an author, in my opinion (should I be saying shit like this? Idk. But we’ve established I’m a snob). This is much, much better than The Zoya Factor. It’s got me piqued enough to consider reading more of her. It does have a certain je ne sais quoi.

 

TLDR Definitely better than ‘turd’. If you want to read something worthwhile for fun, read it. If you want a literary masterpiece, don’t. If you like The Zoya Factor, you’ll like this too. 

  • Release Date: May 1, 2017
  • Page Count: 432
  • My Rating: 6.5/10  (I cried and laughed).
  • Average Goodreads Rating: 3.77/5

 

 

 

 

 

 


I’m sorry but I am not into Golden Age Thinking.

Three years ago, I was convinced that the perfect time for me to be born was the late 1950s, in America, where my parents were probably friends with Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, and William S Boroughs. I wanted to be a daughter of the Beats, and grow up and go to college in the 70s, so I could be a part of the First Wave Feminist Movement, and against the Vietnam War, and a bunch of other liberal political movements.

A couple of years before that, I wanted to be born in Edwardian England- Victorian Mannerisms were oh so charming, and a Darcy was definitely waiting to be introduced to my wit and intellect. Ah, such sweet, naive dreams.

Today, I realize, that I’m okay, the way I am- not as a person, but as a product of my time. The future is cooler than the past.

We are talking about Social Justice, but now in an inclusive manner. We are talking about Feminism, but Intersectionality is understood and valued. We are talking about so many different issues, about what the Government needs to be and do- about what is right, and whose right it is, and what is wrong, and is it really wrong?

We have made some excellent Scientific Breakthroughs, and I don’t just mean gadgets, I also mean Psychology, and History, and all the other Social Sciences. I also mean how some of us understand that if a particular group of people do terribly in a test, it is the test’s fault for not being inclusive (Culture Fair Tests), and not that the group is inherently inferior

We, as a species are better off today than we were before, especially in terms of violence– one of the most taken for granted myths is about how violence is increasing (but also, as I have argued before, are good enough?) And as far as I can see, we will only get better. We will talk about our collective conscience, and try to be as woke as posible, and come off better, on an average. For example, do you think the Pepsi Debacle would have infuriated so many people even a decade ago?

I was also a hardbound-second hand, classica kind of person a couple of years ago. But today, I am a Kindle person. You may say I’m a shitty person and technology is shit, etc., but it’s also so much cheaper, in the long run. If, like me, you read mainly during your daily commute, Kindle is really the answer. It’s so light weight, compared to a book, for one. Second, to co-passengers (and to yourslef), it is not annoying (Context: I live in Bombay, and the local trains here are so crowded, you’ll have someone’s armpits on your face all the damn time, and when you try to turn your page, you poke someone else, yes, but also your arms can’t move much. A Kindle only requires me to lightly touch it.) The Kindle has also helped me increase my speed of reading- so much so that what I read in a year a couple of years back, today, I read in a couple of months. I could go on, but this post is not about Kindle. You can say whatever you what about the touch and feel of a physical book, but technology is much much more practical. I mean, would you write all your assignments by hand than through a computer, because it feels nice? No, right? Letters feel amazing, but texting is just more efficient.

Everything is simply better now than before. The “old fashioned way” is simply not charming, or perfect. For example, monogamy is new. If you want to say romance is dead, by all means go ahead. But people have cheated on their partners since time immemorial. So what monogamy? What “romantic”? The idea of “staying in a relationship no matter what” is ridiculous, for example. Do you know what this no matter what implied? Abuse. Cheating. Toxicity. Thank God, I have the option of not staying in the relationship if it’s harming me in anyway. People are getting divorced now because now we have choice in moving away from abuse, now we have that option of opting out. We don’t need to be in a long marriage if we don’t want to.

Sometimes, like right now, I do wish I were in the Roaring Twenties so I could figure out Zelda Fitzgerald, and go to Jazz Clubs, and be a Flapper. But then I think, fuck, Hitler is gaining power somewhere and Europe is invading a thousand countries somewhere,and next decade is going to be The Great Depression. All this only if I were White and relatively privileged. If not, I’m fucked anyway. Also, my husband (I’d have a husband by now, or I’m an old maid) would have returned from war and is most definitely lost.

Thank God I have a phone and a blog to vent into. Thank God things get better in the future. I can’t wait for it!

P.S. If you are reading this, what do you think? I really want to know. Do you agree with me, or do you not? Why?

P. P. S- Y’all should read Better Angels of our Nature, and watch Midnight in Paris (I know I hate Woody Allen too, but that movie is my absolute favourite).

P.P.P.S- I know most of these examples are from WEIRD populations, but I couldn’t find examples that I was very familiar with from others. I have tried, though, but just not my best. I apologize.

P.P.P.P.S- It feels really great to be blogging long form + opinions on this site again. I’ve been blogging (setting up and trying hard to create content) on my Poetry Blog, where I’m doing NaPoWriMo currently. If you have been following me for long, you’ll know my earlier struggle with writing poetry. But now I’m trying extra hard you guys. Please check it out too. 


Reading The Handmaid’s Tale in a Dystopian World

I have never enjoyed reading dystopian fiction much. Everything seems broodish, and sad, and even though they are stories of a reincarnated world, they are dark and honestly, terrifying.
I remember going into a reading slump after 1984, for example.

I’d heard vaguely of The Handmaid’s Tale. But it was never on my Goodreads Want to Read list. I never actively seeked it out or planned to read it. But somehow I did, at a whim.
I regret reading it.

Whether it be Offred’s mother being a protesting Feminist, who rallied for equal rights and everything a 70s Feminist rallied for, or it be Moira being everything that she was, or it be Offred taking things for granted- inheriting a world her mother had struggled to create, or it be Luke, who was frustratingly passive about everything and Offred supporting it nevertheless because “love”, every string of the story hit me hard.
I really shouldn’t have read it.

The story seems the farthest from fiction, if there ever was one. In the current political climate of Men’s Rights Activism, and Who Wore it Better?, and Good Girls don’ts, and Rape Muslim Women, and Grab ‘Em by the Pussy and Give Him a Chance, and Boys will be Boys, I don’t know whom to trust to bring about change.

I know Steven Pinker tells me we are better off than we ever were in the h eistory of humanity. I know game theory and evolutionary biology tells me the story of evolution of cooperation – how it is a non zero sum game- everyone is better off when we cooperate. I believe in that too. Of course, I do. And of course we’re better off than we were before. But we’re not quite there yet, are we? And we need to be. We need to create a world in which equality is the status quo. Respect for everybody. Is that really too much to ask for? Is it really not the most fundamental thing to aspire for? So we can all quote statistics about how we’re better off, and thank God for that. But we need to aspire higher.
The more I realize this, the more I think that I shouldn’t have read it.

I shouldn’t have read Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, because it’s too real. I wonder who will stand up for me if I go through it. I think all the men I personally know might just allow it. It’s the way it is. What to do?, they’ll all say. Ignorant is not the same as ignoring, but I think ignoring is much worse, and I think a lot of the boys I know will ignore. As they are doing now. Give this a chance, they’ll say. This way is better. “Better never means better for everyone. It always means worse, for some.” Right?

I shouldn’t have read the book because it makes me realise that the revolution I thought is coming is far, far away. I might not even be alive. And the temporal distance is scary. The princess may not be able to save herself in this one. Because she’s blinkered away and there are systems in place to keep her blinkered, and to keep her silent. And if such a time comes, there is not going to be someone to stop it.

I see Luke, and The Commander, and Aunt Lydias in this world. I know one of each in my world, and I keep wondering what I have been thinking of since I know of these things– Why aren’t we standing up against it, even now? After all this time?