Category Archives: Women

The time has arrived for a literary fraud to resurface

One of the many big-noters in India has announced her return to the literary scene with a novel about the uprising in Kashmir. Coming 20 years after her only other effort, Arundhati Roy’s 2017 publication has already received enough hype to make one puke.

Since her book The God of Small Things was surprisingly awarded the Man Booker Prize in 1997, Roy has been involved in activism, written essays and numerous articles. One has to be grateful that she did not attempt a second novel. Her first effort was terrible; author Carmen Callil, chair of the 1996 Booker jury, pronounced Roy’s work “execrable”, and said it should never have reached the shortlist.

I’m willing to bet that the second book will be an even greater success than the first; in this day and age frauds succeed much better than they did in 1997.

Below is the review I wrote at the time; it is no longer on the Internet as the site hosting it died an unnatural death.

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An Indian writer has received an advance of half a million pounds for her first novel, The God of Small Things. Great stuff, one would say, it proves there is talent in the country. The hype that has necessarily accompanied this has obscured the novel to a large extent. There are reviews floating all over the Web, some of them written by people who have not even read the book. The very fact that an Indian author has received a six-figure advance for a first novel necessarily means that the book must be good – thus runs the logic. It makes for even better copy when the writer is a woman.

A number of Indian publications have gloated over the novel. The customary interviews have taken place with the writer and the usual pithy sayings have emerged. It is time to look a bit more closely at this publishing “feat”, the circumstances of the writer and the actual content of the book. One must remember first of all that this year marks the 50th anniversary of Indian independence; indeed, it is a nice time for a British publishing house to give an Indian author such an honour. Good timing to expiate some of the guilt surrounding the act of partition of the subcontinent.

The author, Arundhati Roy, is the daughter of one Mary Roy, a women who gained her own measure of notoriety by challenging the Christian inheritance law some years ago in Kerala. Mary won her case and thus became an icon for feminists in India. Mary Roy, however, was not the best of mothers; she kicked her daughter out at the age of 18 and the girl thus had to fend for herself. It is not, therefore, surprising that Arundhati has constantly tried to gain her mother’s attention by various means and show her parent that she can succeed on her own as well. A large number of so-called great works have come about because a man feels he has something to prove to his parents.

Arundhati has lived on the edge of the so-called intellectual circuit in Delhi, a city which is a ball of hot air. Her first marriage to an architect ended in divorce and she is now married to a photographer by whom she has two children. She has tried her own attention-getting tactics — berating Shekhar Kapoor over his film Bandit Queen was the latest gimmick — and has, to some extent, gained a fair measure of publicity. Now comes this novel, which, if we are to believe the writer, did not require a single correction (there is a silly line which she has used to explain this: “one does not re-breathe a breath”) and in the space of five years. In other words, this spontaneous creation took a fairly long period of time. Does sound a bit like constipated genius.

Now to the novel itself. It is the story of a family who hail from a village in Kerala, one which Roy chose to call Ayemenem. The story is told within an uncertain time-frame which winds itself back and forth and anyone searching for structure within this book will be disappointed; the writer has an excuse – it is like a work of architecture, she says, and the form develops in any direction. There is plenty of detail in the 350-odd pages; the English is stuffed stupid with a surfeit of similes, most of them very poor ones. There is a bid to copy Salman Rushdie but it does not work; the use of language is stilted and and some words are so obviously contrived that they are out of place when used. Roy would have one believe that this work is spontaneous but the truth is that it is contrived and rather badly at that. It is so obviously wrung out of herself that any claim that this novel was lying dormant within herself just waiting to be written must be taken with loads of salt.

The God of Small Things is seen from the perspective of seven-year-old Rahel. She and her twin brother, Estha, live with their mother, Ammu, who was married to a Bengali from whom she is divorced. Ammu and the twins live in the Ayemenem house with their grandmother, uncle and grand-aunt Baby. The family owns a pickle factory that comes into conflict with the Communists. The family is awaiting the arrival of Sophie Mol, the twins’ half-English cousin and the book drifts back and forth to the arrival and the aftermath of the death by drowning of Sophie Mol and an ill-fated love affair between Ammu and the untouchable Velutha. Rahel returns to Ayemenem as an an adult to a decimated household, a dysfunctional twin and a decaying house.

Were a Keralite to read this book, he or she would obviously understand the setting and a lot of social surroundings. An outsider may find it exotic but that is all. In this sense, the book is insular in the extreme; there are splashes of Malayalam here and there and despite the feeble attempt at translation, the real meaning of the phrase is often hidden. Roy obviously has a huge narcissistic streak and ensures that the reader will identify her as the girl Rahel; whether this is intended to tell the reader that everything, including the incestuous relationship Rahel has with her twin, was also part of Roy’s life is unclear. This is a totally unnecessary twist to the book.

The story line is quite predictable; the death of a child and the love affair between a woman of the higher caste and an untouchable are standard fare in many an Indian novel. The only difference here is that this affair is suddenly sprung on the reader and it cannot be logically deduced; indeed, logic is a major casualty in this novel. There is a process of development in any book but there seems to be none in this book and, in my opinion, it is highly over-rated. One thing which puzzles me no end is the fact that Penguin India did not publish it; David Davidar has been the face of Indian publishing in English and his laconical explanation, “it wasn’t offered to us,” does not answer the question. Davidar is one who has chased after any writer whom he feels has the slightest chance of being a success. Why he did not choose to do so with Roy is a mystery.

Serena Williams has lost and we should all rejoice

When Serena Williams loses, we should all rejoice. And more so when the loss comes as she is heading for a major achievement.

Serena is so wrapped up in herself that she was describing the calendar Grand Slam which she was trying to achieve as a “Serena Slam”. Can anyone be more egotistical?

Thankfully for all humanity, an Italian player by the name of Flavia Pennetta got in the way of Serena’s ambitions and dumped her from the US Open.

We should be all the more grateful to Pennetta because if she had not thrashed Serena, then the latter would have equalled the record of the great Steffi Graf. And that should never happen.

Williams is an obnoxious individual, as bad as the Australian Nick Kyrgios.

On the other hand, it would be difficult to find a more gracious champion than Graf. For years the German dominated women’s tennis but never behaved as though winning was her right.

In 1988, Graf thrashed Russian Natasha Zvereva 6-0, 6-0 in the final of the French Open in 34 minutes – the shortest and most one-side Grand Slam final on record. And Zvereva had beaten Martina Navratilova en route to the final!

Yet Graf was low-key at the presentation. She did not laud it over Zvereva, she did not indulge in triumphalism. One shudders to think of the way Serena would have carried on in such a situation.

Serena is often said to be one of the better women’s tennis players of the modern era. That may well be true. But she is also an ugly example of American arrogance, someone who can never be wrong, someone who carries a chip on her shoulder that is even bigger than her behind (and the latter does take some beating).

In 2011, when Williams met Australian Samantha Stosur in the final of the US Open, she was soundly beaten – but made her own news by behaving like a buffoon.

When she was rightly penalised for shouting during a point, Williams unleashed a tirade of abuse against the referee.

She has form in this regard. In 2009, she abused a Chinese lineswoman in racial terms. She was on the losing end that time too.

Whenever she is asked about her ugly behaviour, Williams always has the same excuse – she was in the “zone”. Whatever that is. She claims that she cannot remember what she did. It serves as an excuse for the vilest displays of bad behaviour.

But American officials always go easy on her. Perhaps they are scared that she will play the race card if she is levied a fine that is proportional to her stupid outbursts. For her outburst in 2009, she was fined a pathetic $US10,500. In 2011, she was asked to pay $US2000.

Such fines are not a deterrent. Williams earned $US1.4 million from the US Open in 2011. When officialdom reacts in this way, it is practically inviting her to behave in a similar fashion in the future.

Political correctness has reached dizzy heights

THESE days political correctness has grown by leaps and bounds; people who generally speak out tend to muzzle themselves in order not to offend some group or the other.

It means that often we have to stomach stupid statements without responding, to point out that the speaker/writer is clearly delusional. Or putting forward a silly point of view that has no merit.

Some time back, a TV presenter from Sky News, Tracy Spicer, gave a TED talk in which she blamed men for the fact that she had to doll up for her job. The TED talks have an aura about them; you only have to give one to be considered an intellectual.

Some years ago, Spicer was sacked from a job at Channel Seven, something she blamed on her advancing age. In the course of her talk, Spicer took off all her make-up, and disrobed to her underclothes. It was all calculated to hold the attention of people.

In the course of watching this guff, the audience forgot that she was talking nonsense. They forgot to tell her one simple truth: if she felt so hemmed in by the fact that she had to doll up every day for work, why didn’t she quit her job and join some other profession?

Surely, she is not being held hostage to work for a TV channel? When a woman makes stupid claims like this, political correctness comes into the picture; anyone who contradicts such stupidity will be derided as a misogynist.

This is again silly, since misogyny is the hatred of all women. Not the logical debunking of a stupid argument which is not contradicted only because it originates from a woman.

But that is the state society has descended to; we are hemmed in by people who tell you what you can and cannot say to various interest groups.

There are various requirements expected of people in different professions; to give the simplest example, one cannot go to work unless one is properly attired. And one cannot walk down the street buck naked; public obscenity is a crime. No matter that one subscribes to the idea that clothes are a waste of time.

There are organisations which have dress codes for women, specifically stating that business attire is to be worn at all times. And there are some companies which do not allow their employees to dress down, not even on Fridays.

But then one has to submit to these rules and regulations only when one works for these organisations. One can leave their employ and do exactly what one wishes to, within the rules of the land.

Making it seem as though others are responsible for one’s own predicament is playing the blame game. It’s easy to do that when one belongs to certain groups in society. People from these groups take advantage of political correctness and indeed build a career around it.

It’s high time someone called them for the frauds they are.

Dawson was too fragile for what she tried to do

THERE is an unspoken convention among most people that one does not speak ill of the dead; in the Sinhalese language, there is even a separate word to describe this.

Not that one needs to remind people of this; most people tend to be politically correct when a man or woman dies and refrain from speaking the truth. Even when Richard Milhous Nixon died, most people refrained from describing him as a crook – even though that was the mildest term one could use to characterise a thug like him.

A week or so ago, Charlotte Dawson, a TV personality, was found dead in her flat in Sydney. Dawson, who was approaching 50, made a name for herself by trying to take on social media trolls and outing them. She was prone to fits of depression and ended up in hospital for her troubles.

Dawson appears to have committed suicide. She was greatly affected by the troll affair. Further, her former husband, the swimmer Scott Miller, gave a detailed interview to a TV channel a few weeks before her death; this affected her greatly as well.

All the material published about her after her death was sympathetic to her; nobody pointed out that she should have received some advice while she was alive to avoid putting herself in situations that exposed her to situations that could have brought on depression.

She insisted on trying to be a high-profile person; yet, she was exactly the kind of person who should have kept a low profile as she could not handle the publicity and everything that normally follows in its wake.

As one writer put it: “I think you (Dawson) were also claimed by the fear of getting old. It is hard being 47. At the crisis of middle age, losing your sexual currency, becoming invisible.”

There’s more than a grain of truth in that; many people who crave attention find it frightening when they are not the centre of attention and will do anything to become the focus again. This was true of Dawson but she did not have the mental strength to handle what she undertook.

Lara Bingle says Michael Clarke could not ‘stimulate’ her

“But I require more for myself. I need to be stimulated more than that, you know?” Lara Bingle on her relationship with Michael Clarke Source

LARA Bingle is the Paris Hilton of Australia. A silly empty-headed woman who uses her looks to get from A to B and has done nothing to merit any kind of publicity – apart from periodically ensuring that she bares a bit in public.

However, when she hooked up with the Australian cricketer Michael Clarke in 2007, she got a good deal of the spotlight. Clarke was the captain-in-waiting at the time and that post is the second most important in the country after the prime minister.

Hence Bingle was often in the public gaze. She made the most of it.
Continue reading Lara Bingle says Michael Clarke could not ‘stimulate’ her

Giving women false hope

ONE of the characteristics of the internet age is the lack of thought that is evident in peoples’ reaction to events.

Somehow everyone feels the need to react quickly. This may well be due to the fact that we have grown used to instantaneous gratification.

So many things that once took a long time to obtain or see, are now available at the click of a mouse. It creates a false sense of expectation and also a sense that life can always be lived at that pace.

Thus it is not surprising to see the reactions to the article by actress Angelina Jolie in the The New York Times, announcing that she had undergone a double mastectomy so that she could reduce the chance that she would die of breast cancer.

Nobody has a thoughtful word, everybody has become part of a cheer squad.

Jolie writes that she has the BRCA1 gene and her doctors had estimated that she had a 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Her mother, she writes, died of breast cancer at the age of 56 and she says she can now tell her children that they don’t need to fear they will lose to her to this form of cancer.

Inherent in this statement is the claim, though not overtly, that Jolie has increased her lifespan. But is that really true? Can a human being cheat death? Can we put off the day of reckoning, the day when the grim reaper arrives?

I fear very much that this false impression is being given to whoever reads Jolie’s article. And it is wrong. We all have a time appointed to die. And even if we encase ourselves in concrete, to protect ourselves from any kind of injury, death will come, right on time.

One may even be able to cheat taxes. But not death.

There are a few other disturbing things in Jolie’s essay. She writes that breast cancer kills 458,000 women every year, mostly in low- and middle-income countries. Can women from these countries ever entertain the thought of having a gene scan to find out their chances of dying of breast cancer?

The breast cancer genes are patented by a company known as Myriad Genetics and it controls the test for the genes. The test can be done only in the US – a doctor in Australia told a close relative this recently – and it costs a good amount, in excess of $US3000. Certainly, no woman in a poor or developing country would be able to even dream about having the test done.

Not only can Jolie afford to have the test done, she can also get the best possible silicone job after the mastectomy to ensure that, outwardly, everything looks as it was before. Her career will not suffer. Her essay tends to give false hope to many women.

Was there really a need to publicise this in the way it has been done? If it was a matter of reassuring her children would it not have been better kept within the confines or her own family? One wonders.

Given the politically correct era we live in, most people do not dare to contradict anything a woman says or does. Apparently, there can never be a case when a woman says or does something that is wrong, immoral, deceitful or illogical. The response is always that the person who is critical is being so because the speaker/writer is a woman.

Another view of Jolie’s act is here.