Diary of the Ordinary Happenings of a Kolkatan Lady (23/11/19 – 30/11/19)

This is a diary and account of the extremely ordinary happenings that occur in my life in Kolkata. We (Me, my husband and 7 year old daughter) live in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood in Kolkata. We moved back to India after spending ten years in the US. Be prepared for some moaning and groaning because as you will see – life in Kolkata has its fair share of ups and downs.

Find the previous entry here

Saturday, 23rd November 2019

Spend most of the day tidying our flat in preparation for Sunday’s large party. About 90 of our closest family and friends (mostly from Raja’s side because our family/work colleague numbers seem to be dwindling?) will visit us for the first time in our new home. We are planning food and seating arrangements downstairs in the garage and surrounding ground floor area – because obviously home too small! Today the decorators arrived with long bamboo poles, lengths of fabric and other paraphernalia to create a covered tent to house the caterers and the food. Fingers crossed that everything goes according to plan. Not having too many squabbles with Raja about issues related to party as most have things have been taken care of. Feeling less stressed about life than the time of the house move. Nevertheless…

Sunday, 24th November 2019

The day starts bright and early with a ring on the door from our building’s caretaker – Mr Maiti-pronounced as in “My- T” only with a soft ‘T’. Raja secretly calls him Almighty, perhaps due to his air of grand deportment. On this particular morning Almighty announces with an apologetic smile that the building’s water pump has run amok. Visualize 100 people descending upon us without a drop of water for the caterers, not to mention the impossibility of performing ablutions and using the facilities. In a fit of frenzy I start obsessively filling every bucket, container, vessel at hand and phone my mum in a panic. Dad arrives on a rickshaw within ten minutes bearing large 100 gallon plastic water drum with tap, which we place downstairs near the food stations. Decorators have arrived and are arranging the chairs and tables. Request extra water drum from them which they supply and proceed to fill it but am told off by Raja because am not acting normally it seems.

At 10.30 am first of family arrives and am still in nightie. Sister-in-law helps me to wear green-gold saree, worn for only the second time in last fifteen years. Everyone arrives and we have a wonderful time. House much admired particularly the library. Food is delicious. After the flurry of guests subsides at 4pm, find out pump had been mended at midday!

Monday, 25th November 2019

Husband and I both wake up with sore throats and the beginnings of colds. I spend the day pootering about at home, setting the rooms to rights and putting away the many gifts we have received (six sets of bedsheets!). Heat up catering leftovers – lots of yellow pilau rice, cauliflower curry and daal but not so much mutton curry, fish fry et al. Raja and I both seem to taste the food for the first time and nod appreciatively at our excellent catering choice. 

Buy Meli a children’s magazine on the way home from school today. Remember the joys of childhood magazine reading as something to look forward to every month. Meli enjoying the jokes in said magazine exceedingly and starts relating them to me umpteen times throughout the day. Have to appreciate the joke with fresh enjoyment every time.

Tuesday, 26th November 2019

Have resolved to spend some time this week at the local bank in attempts to boost dwindling financial resources (depleted especially after house-buying). Many lucrative options present themselves but as usual opt for the safe and reliable low interest method of fixed term deposits like my ancestors of yore. Look forward to meager but assured promise of some book spending money this time next month. Book buying being a major motivation in life. 

Lots of leftovers from Sunday.

Wednesday, 27th November 2019

Meli has the day off from school and we have planned a nice day of watching Frozen 2 at the cinema, followed by subway sandwiches for lunch and a visit to the bookshop. Luckily all are to be found in local Mall for which I am very grateful. 

We both enjoy Frozen 2 very much. I especially enjoy the beautiful autumnal and wintry scenes. There is an Olaf joke involving ‘Samantha’ that Meli finds hilarious and repeats frequently. Meli demands to watch the next show of Frozen which I firmly decline as I don’t love it that much and frankly cinema tickets extortionary. 

Meli assuages grief in chicken sub sandwiches with extra olives and honey mustard and we spend the evening listening to the Frozen 2 soundtrack on repeat.

Still eating leftovers.

Thursday, 28th November 2019

Spend the morning editing a few articles. The early mornings are dank and foggy and for a small window of time, one doubts whether the sun will come up at all, from behind the puffy clouds of pollution. Delhi is said to be very bad with regards to pollution but I imagine we don’t lag very far behind. The ironing man with his makeshift ironing booth on the corner of our cul-de-sac is I expect, a serious offender in that department. From around 6.30 am he lights his coal scuttle (used to warm his heavy metal iron) and sends plumes of grey smoke into the ether. Meli and I hold our breath whilst going past him on our early morning walk to the bus stop and then gasp for air, with flushed faces when we have turned the corner. Meli asks when it will be cold enough to blow clouds of smoke into the air. I tell her that it will come soon enough.

Nearing the end of last Sunday’s leftovers. Ate the baked tomato fish with a garden salad and soya bread. That was our Thanksgiving Dinner this year. Very thankful for nice, new place to stay this year.

Friday, 29th November 2019

Meli has the day off school again. Write and package off the last of the Xmas parcels. I expect there will be more to post next week though as I always seem to miss people or people unexpectedly send me things and I feel the need to reciprocate. Go to local Post Office – the one with the perennial dearth of postage stamps. Informed not enough postage stamps for the Rs 216 parcel. Ask in great indignation how this can be possible. Am informed that might be issued the requisite amount in smaller denominations of 5 rupees. Agree to this dolefully and proceed to stick 43 stamps on the envelope whilst the 7 year old reads a book in a murky corner of the Post Office. Advise her to swing her legs continuously on wooden bench as feel sure Post Office is riddled with mosquitoes.

After pasting the myriad stamps, hand over the envelope fervently hoping dear Nora, in far-off snowy Canada, will enjoy the package and contents with multiple images of esteemed Indian freedom fighter- Mr Abul Kalam Azad.

Saturday, 30th November 2019

At the midnight hour, it suddenly strikes me that today is the last day of November and that from tomorrow, December, Advent and the gloriousness of the festive season will be upon us. Traditionally we like to put up our artificial tree and decorations on the weekend following Thanksgiving, so that we have the whole of December to enjoy them (and towards the end of the month grow heartily tired of them).

Usually we have lots of plans for December and not all of them come to fruition. I host a festive readalong on Instagram (this year Miss Read’s wonderful ‘Village Christmas’), have a pile of festive books, watch Vlogmas videos on YouTube, take out the Christmas movies. This year we even have a Christmas puzzle on the way.

Mum visits us in the evening and we dress the tree and marvel at all the treasured ornaments that we have forgotten about in the span of a year. I always try to add one new decoration to the collection every year and hence, the family grows. Put up a string of Christmas cards received over the years. Most of them are from Bookstagram friends who have grown very dear to me. I love this season of putting into play, the lost art of sending snail mail.

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The Diary of the Ordinary Happenings of a Kolkatan Lady (17/11/19 – 22/11/19)

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This is a diary and account of the extremely ordinary happenings that occur in my life in Kolkata. We (Me, my husband and 7 year old daughter) live in a quiet, leafy neighbourhood in Kolkata. We moved back to India after spending ten years in the US. Be prepared for some moaning and groaning because as you will see – life in Kolkata has its fair share of ups and downs.

 

Sunday, 17th November 2019

I write this on a pleasant Sunday, as pools of afternoon sunshine, like liquid amber, make patterns on the soft brown of old wooden furniture. 

We’ve lived in our new flat for a month and a half now and it seems like we’ve been here forever. 

The crows are cawing in a staccato beat and a soft breeze undulates the leaves on the trees. Kolkata is at peace after another very hot summer and steamy monsoon. The anticipation of cooler winter months ahead brings such delight, like an intangible gift-wrapped present.

I decided to set up this daily diary amidst great fervour late last night, in the hope that it will help me to put pen to paper more often. One needs to start somewhere…

Monday, 18th November 2019

Before we leave home for our walk to the school bus stop in the morning, Meli announces that it’s beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Don’t you just love the excitement and build up to Christmas. Especially feels wonderful when you are a child with the anticipation of gifts, food and good times with family. I have Mr Buble trilling in good voice on my iPhone speaker at the bus stop. Receive a few curious glances from Kolkatan passers by who might not get it. Such is the weird juxtaposition of having lived a very full, international life and then settling down to provinciality. 

There’s a nip in the air quite early in the morning now, that dulls to a hazy heat at midday. The evenings draw in at 5 pm and it feels comforting to close the curtains and shut out the darkness. There’s something so melancholy about winter evenings out of doors. Lighting soft lamps inside helps to bring cheer along with warming cups of aromatic milk tea.

Tuesday, 19th November 2019

I went to the local Post Office yesterday with the intent of getting a decent head start on my Christmas gift sending this year.Every year, just about this time, the Post Office man sees me quite frequently. I ask for my packages to be weighed, he counts out a hundred or so stamps (all small denominations) whileI then affix the multitude on large manila envelopes. 

I think about all the places the package will see before it arrives at its final destination. There are so many miles between Kolkata and Honolulu. Is it possible to be jealous of an envelope’s adventure’s? 

In the meantime, with the ambient temperature dropping there’s been a mad scramble to find the rogue, red school cardigan, which despite my best intentions always manages to hide itself in the unlikeliest corners.

We find it at last in a murky corner of the old steel trunk, reeking of a yearlong tryst with the naphthalene balls.

Wednesday, 20th November 2019

Wednesday heralds the arrival of a new blue sofa-cum-bed for our third bedroom, gloriously called the library. One of the hazards of ordering online is the rude shock one can receive at the total divergence in appearance of said product from that imagined. The larger and more expensive the product – the greater the risk – as you are ‘lumped with it for life’. Thankfully blue sofa met most expectations except for a slender ribbon of grey trim that Meli pronounced as appearing ‘dirty white’. Sofa is wonderfully comfortable and can foresee many hours of no steps being tracked on the pedometer due to inactivity. Currently reading Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal – a wonderful ode to the English country house. There’s something unsettling about the book. I keep waiting for the unsettling event to happen.

Thursday, 21st November 2019

The day of our housewarming party draws near – Sunday 24th November . The days go by in trying to wash dirty laundry that have snuck inadvertently into corners, tidying cupboards and skillfully trying to disguise little messes. 

Take comfort in telling myself that it will all be over soon and I can go back to my slovenly ways. The food should be good – fish fry, mutton curry among others and hopefully the weather co-operates. Must remember to take Meli to singing class tonight.

Friday, 22nd November 2019

Have successfully washed all bedsheets for the big day, although only I know why it is important to have linen cupboard in apple pie order for Sunday (just in case someone wants to have a peek in there…). Will spend today and tomorrow phoning people up to issue reminders about the housewarming. The introvert in me much prefers texting to calling but it is nice to hear voices and exchange pleasantries. 

Order 100 small earthenware pots of ‘mishti doi’ (thick set, sweet caramel yoghurt – simply divine) with a Bengali sweet meat called ‘sandesh’ from the local sweet shop and the promise to deliver them to house on Sunday. Am greatly relieved because their management would have been beyond me.

Feeling stressed and excited about the housewarming in equal measure and enlist the help of Raja to clean odd corners in the rest of the house.

‘The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill

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’The Call’ by Edith Ayrton Zangwill follows the personal story of a young woman scientist, through the course of historical events that dominated the women’s suffrage movement in England, leading up to the outbreak and onset of the First World War.

Although the story is one of fiction, the series of events that pervade the novel, come across as remarkably real, no doubt drawing from the personal experience of Edith Ayrton Zangwill – a member of the WSPU herself.

The ‘Call’ refers to the call to action experienced by Ursula Winfield. A call to shun and relinquish everything she held dear, in order to enable the progress of the women’s suffrage movement.

However, as the novel progresses, we discover that this call to action is experienced by other people and for other causes- be they women’s suffrage, the call to do one’s duty in the war, or the call of a more personal nature- that of all-consuming love.

Ursula Winfield is an unusual young woman born before the turn of the twentieth century. Born in a fairly well-to-do English family, her Father has died but she has an affable stepfather, Colonel Hibbert, and a loving but seemingly frivolous socialite mother, who has her head caught up in the unending outings and soirées of the elite London circle. Rather than join the fashionable set, Ursula remains locked up in the chemistry laboratory she has painstakingly set up in the attic of 57 Lowndes Square- the Hibbert family residence. It is a time when women have not been accorded the respect of being allowed to accept a university degree.

We witness the seeds of Ursula’s discontentment during various scientific meetings- meetings at which she sometimes puts forward her scientific ideas. However, for the most part Ursula’s ideas are not taken as seriously as she would like. A certain Professor Smee, champions Ursula’s cause – invites her to speak out at a particular meeting and later on, invites her to practice her experiments at his laboratory in London.

Middle-aged and slightly disenchanted with his romantic lot in life, Professor Smee develops a deep infatuation for the intelligent beautiful Ursula, which she completely fails to recognize.

At the time of these events, echoes of the women’s suffrage movement are to be heard all over Britain. The movement, headed by a group known as the WSPU (Women’s Social and Political Union) were a militant organization that used demonstrations, marches, actions leading to incarceration and in certain cases- hunger-strikes.

Ursula finds herself interested and drawn to the women who form the backbone of the party but for the most part- she remains disapproving of their militant methods. Ursula meets and falls in love with a young man, a man from a respectable, well-to-do family, who later goes on to work  for the civil service. When Ursula gets engaged to Tony, Professor Smee is dismayed and has to quietly nurse his wounds.

One day, Ursula happens to save a destitute old woman from drowning, in an attempted suicide. Whilst she is at the court hearing of the old woman’s trial (suicide being a punishable offence), Ursula hears about the case of a prostitute and the sexual assault of a minor. Ursula has been so shrouded in a life of science, and so distant from the reality of living on the London streets that she is shocked to the core.

Was it only this morning? Then the world had been a clean and pleasant place of healthy men and women. Now it had become rotten, crawling with obscene abomination. These suffragettes talked as if the vote would help! If people were so vile and bestial, nothing could help, nothing! It was all horrible. She did not want to live. Science was dead, futile. Everything was tainted- even Tony

 

After this event (unfair treatment of the woman and child at the trial) and despite her reservations regarding  militant actions, Ursula finds herself drawn to the cause of the WSPU. Tony’s absence in distant India, results in her joining the group without his knowledge (or indeed consent) and when he realizes the fact- he is very disapproving. Ursula finds herself drawn more and more into WSPU activities and at a point – she must make the painful decision of deciding whether to answer to ‘The Call’ of social justice for women or heeding to the emotions of her heart.

Much later, when the Great War breaks out in Europe, sweeping the rest of the world into the upheaval, men who were disapproving of the militant tactics of women suffragettes are ironically called to militant action as well. There is a dissolution of social classes, standards, prejudices  and men and women work together in the war effort. It is an effort that accords women (over the age of 30) with the right to vote after the war ends.

’The Call’ is an extraordinary story that sweeps the entirety of this very interesting but trying time in the history of men and women and their relative status in society. The story is about millitancy and pacifism and in the course of the novel we witness how the lines between these opposing ideals can get blurred to a certain extent. A man who opposes militant methods adopted by women is called upon to take up arms in War. A woman who has embraced pacifism her entire life is goaded on to take up the cudgels of millitantcy in the face of extreme opposition. The times are trying and it is very interesting to see how societal balance is restored, at least to a certain extent, at the end of the story.

Do read ‘The Call’ if you get a chance. It is a story about an incredible group of women, who went to extraordinary ends to achieve women’s suffrage.

 

I was sent a review copy of ‘The Call’ by Persephone Books, but as always all my views are entirely my own.

14 ‘Lovely’ Books That Will Get You in the Mood For Valentine’s Day

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While the present-day commercialization of Valentine’s Day might not be up everybody’s street (I must admit – it can be a little too much for me now that I’m heading into my dotage), there are many of us who won’t say no to a good love story. 

A good love story, that of the epic kind, can leave us in a thrall of emotion- having us reeling from its heady effects. In fact, when I finished reading one of my favourite love stories, ‘North and South’ (omitted from this list due to having lost personal copy), I was in a state of acute sadness, which I later classified as a ‘bookish hangover’.

The emotion of love has been portrayed by writers in innumerable ways, in the most differential situations.

The sweet intoxication of first love, the poignancy of love lost, the illicit pleasure of forbidden love- all have been written about by the greatest of writers.

Here, in no particular order are some ‘lovely’ books that will make your Valentine’s Day reading, hopefully more fulfilling:

 

A Valentines Day Reading List

1) Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

The epic tale of a savage love between Heathcliffe and Catherine is definitely one not to be forgotten. Set against the wild backdrop of the Yorkshire moors, one feels the intense emotions felt by the characters to be mirrored in the harsh landscape.

 

2) The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Return of the Soldier’ by Rebecca West is about a Great War veteran who has returned from the trenches suffering from shell-shock.

His amnesia prevents him from remembering his wife of ten years, with whom he has loved and lost a small child.

To the dismay and disgust of his wife Kitty, the one person he can remember is his sweetheart from fifteen years ago- Margaret, with whom he has a very romantic history. She was then, a young, simple girl, a poor inn-keeper’s daughter, of little sophistication.

Christopher and Margaret meet again and rekindle their relationship at Christopher’s behest but Kitty is anxious for her husband to meet a doctor and be treated for his lapse of memory.

It is left to Margaret, with her superior understanding of Christopher’s mind (in-fact the perfect soul mate) to trigger an emotion that will bring about the return of the soldier in both the physical and emotional states.

This is a story about love and sacrifice and is also an exploration of the relative strengths of different human relationships.

 

3) Madam Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

I’m currently reading Flaubert’s tale of a country doctor’s wife who will do anything to provide relief from her life of boredom in a French provincial town. I believe the story is packed with passion and turned more than a few eyebrows when first published.

 

4) Little Women by L.M Alcott

Who can forget the unrequited love story between teenage Laurie and Jo March? Despite Jo’s rejection for the young Lawrence boy, one can’t help but wonder why Jo and Laurie wouldn’t have made a good pair.

 

5) Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

Earth and High Heaven’ is the love story of Marc Reiser and Erica Drake, set against the social and political backdrop of a segregated Montreal, in the midst of the turmoil of the Second World War.

The social milieu of Montreal is very important in the context of the story. Montreal, at the time, consisted of a majority of English Canadians (the Drakes) and a minority of French Canadians and Canadian Jews (the Reisers). ‘Earth and High Heaven’ is a very elaborate social commentary on racial prejudice. It shows how people born into a fixed social pattern can overcome centuries of difference, in an overwhelming desire to embrace the most unifying emotion of all- love.

 

6) Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple

‘Young Anne’ is set in the years leading up to the First World War and follows the life and growth of Anne Pritchard, youngest child of a middle-class, Lancastrian family. The ‘Young’ in ‘Young Anne’ not only refers to the tender age of the female protagonist, it also helps to emphasize the extreme naïveté of Anne Pritchard, the mistakes in love that youth often make and the consequences of immature decision making on adult life.

There are some dreamy scenes in the middle of the book that capture the heady romance that first love can bring.

 

7) Persuasion by Jane Austen

As opposed to dealing with the theme of young love, Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ is an interesting story about love that has been lost in youth and the listlessness that a loveless life can bring. Anne Eliot’s feelings of being thwarted and rejected are so very poignant that they make the reader weep internally for her.

 

8) Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

Lady Rose leads a life of great privilege but it is largely bereft of love. Her parents neglect her, her first husband marries her for her money and title. So when she meets the love of her life in a commoner, on a park bench in Edinburgh, she has a momentous decision to make. Should she follow the dictates of social etiquette or shun society, follow her heart and thus lose all she holds dear?

 

9) Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

This gothic romance is so swept with passion that it reminds us, that the Bronte sisters could write with great passion, revealing a depth of emotion that is quite contradictory to the dictates of the staid Victorian Age.

The fiery love story between Rochester and Jane are one of the reasons that this book remains a popular classic, to this day.

 

10) Fair Stood the Wind for France by HE Bates

Fair Stood the Wind for France’ by H E Bates is a war time work of fiction that deals with the story of a group of British airmen, who are compelled to make a forced landing in occupied France and have to take refuge in the home of a kind French family, who risk all they hold dear to help the men.

In particular it is the beautiful story of the love and trust that grows between the injured head flight pilot and the daughter of the French family.

Fair Stood the Wind for France was poignant, a World War Two story about love and trust and loss on an epic scale.

 

 

11) Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne du Maurier

If dashing, swashbuckling pirates who smoke tobacco and bored ladies of the English nobility, teaming up and going on daring Robin Hood-like adventures around the Cornish coastline are your thing, then you will most definitely enjoy du Maurier’s ‘Frenchman’s Creek’. It may be just a little too romantic and unrealistic for some- but on Valentine’s Day- why hold back?

 

12) Britannia Mews by Margery Sharp

Britannia Mews’ is a book that describes the life and times of Adelaide Culver, a child of privileged circumstances, living in one of the row of houses along London’s Albion Place. Adjacent to Albion Place, stands Britannia Mews, once a stable, housing the horses used by the genteel folk living in Albion Place but now reduced to a slum at the turn of the nineteenth century.

Adelaide falls in love with her art teacher and aspiring artist, Henry Lambert and throwing all caution to the winds, elopes with him, to live a life of severely reduced circumstances and drudgery in a small house in Britannia Mews. In the beginning, Adelaide is happy with her new found independence, the novelty of keeping her tiny house spick and span and the belief that Henry will make a name for himself in art circles.  Slowly, however, she is resigned to the fact that Henry is a drunk and will never make a name for himself. The book deals with how Adelaide resurrects her life in the wake of her husband’s accidental death and how love comes to visit her life again.

 

13) The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge

Published in 1940, The Bird in the Tree, is the first in a trio of novels – collectively called the Eliot Chronicles. The Eliots are a large family and their story is as intricate and detailed as most familial tales.

Without giving too much of the plot away – the book is a gentle dialogue on the tousle men and women have of choosing between personal gratification gained from love or making choices that benefit family and future generations.

 

14) The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

The last book in our tribute to Valentines Day is Mitford’s ‘The Pursuit of Love’.

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford is her fifth novel published in 1945. It is the first novel in a trilogy of which Love in a Cold Climate and Don’t Tell Alfred form a part. The Pursuit of Love was the first novel that brought Mitford popularity and is semi-autobiographical. The time frame of the story is set in between the two world wars. The threat of impending war and its repercussions play a major role in the unfolding of the story. However, at the heart of the tale is the story of a young woman’s lifelong quest to find love.

 

Do you have any recommendations that should be added to our Valentine’s Book List? Please do share.

Celebrating the 10th Anniversary of the Wellcome Book Prize With ‘Wounded’ by Emily Mayhew

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I’m delighted to be part of the Wellcome Book Prize Book Tour hosted by @wellcomebkprize.

2019 marks the 10th anniversary of the prestigious prize that over the last decade has been dedicated to celebrating everything from novels, to memoirs, to popular science.

The anniversary Book Tour aims to celebrate and showcase a range of titles, that have over the years, been recognised by the Wellcome Book Trust for illuminating our relationship with health, medicine and illness.

I chose to focus on a book that was shortlisted for the 2014 prize- ‘Wounded’ by Emily Mayhew.

In the introduction, the author chooses to highlight the voices of the innumerable wounded soldiers that were casualties in the Western Front during the Great War. 

Just as the words of war poets told us about the pain and suffering of war, those that have been rendered wounded and their caregivers have an important story to tell too.

Gathering testimonies of individuals from archives or hastily scribbled letters sent home to loved ones, Mayhew assembles these neglected stories and weaves them into a social history. 

The first story traces the history of a young soldier, Mickey Chater, injured at the Front in the battle of Neuve Chapelle.

After working and waiting in the trenches for many days, responsible for digging relief trenches, the guns crash into life one morning at 7.30 am. What follows is a barrage of artillery that made them stop work in the trenches because ‘ both air and earth became one quivering jelly’. 

Squadrons of aircraft flew over head but what Chater vividly remembered was the frantic song of the larks who were rudely disturbed in their hundreds from the fields surrounding Neuve Chapelle. The town was decimated within half an hour of shelling – blasting the town square, tossing trees hither- thither into the air- hitting the brewery and scattering wooden barrels into the streets.

Though Chater survives – his well-being is short lived. In a subsequent attack the following day Chater is hit by enemy artillery – hot metal clawing away at his cheek, teeth and jaw bones. Blood streaming into his eyes and pain bringing him to the edge of consciousness – he is later rescued due to his pleas of help and taken to an abandoned farmhouse. Here a Regimental Medical Officer slips morphine tablets into his mouth to numb the pain so that he can be transferred by a jolting ambulance ride to the nearest hospital – sixty miles along the Boulogne road. 

He is scheduled for surgery once there. As he falls asleep he is filled with wonderment for his personal war. 

“Months of waiting and then just minutes of fighting. There would be no great victory for him to remember, only this pain. But also something else: the faces of all the men and the women who had appeared before him, determined to fight for his life. Those were the memories worth saving.”

‘Wounded’ is a gripping, raw and very personal look at the stories of the casualties of war and their struggle to overcome their injuries. 

#WBP2019 

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Top 10 Books of 2018

Happy New Year to everyone reading the blog. Thank you for all your kind comments and feedback during the past year.

2018 on the whole, was a year of comfort reading. It has been three years since we moved back to India after spending many years abroad. Slowly but surely, we are easing in to a pattern of life here. Perhaps I will be ready for darker, more complex books next year? 🙂

A major highlight of my reading year has been reading all 12 books in Miss Read’s ‘Thrush Green’ series. Though none of the books made their way into my Top 10, they provided much needed comfort and reflected a way of life that I would at least love to emulate (although not remotely possible under the circumstances).

I ended up reading a total of 45 books during the year. Although not a large number, I enjoyed my reading year at large and can’t wait to jump in to a fresh new year of enhanced reading.

 

Here, in Order of Reading Chronology, are My Top 10 Books of 2019:

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Return of the Soldier’ by Rebecca West is about a Great War veteran who has returned from the trenches suffering from shell-shock.

His amnesia prevents him from remembering his wife of ten years, with whom he has loved and lost a small child. His cousin Jenny, who lives with them, he can recollect, but only as a young woman, fifteen years younger.

To the dismay and disgust of his wife Kitty, the one person he can remember is his sweetheart from fifteen years ago- Margaret, with whom he has a very romantic history. She was then, a young, simple girl, a poor inn-keeper’s daughter, of little sophistication.

Christopher and Margaret meet again and rekindle their relationship at Christopher’s behest but Kitty is anxious for her husband to meet a doctor and be treated for his lapse of memory.

It is left to Margaret, with her superior understanding of Christopher’s mind (in-fact the perfect soul mate) to trigger an emotion that will bring about the return of the soldier in both the physical and emotional states. This is a story about love and sacrifice and is also an exploration of the relative strengths of different human relationships.

 

Can You Forgive Her by Anthony Trollope

Trollope’s entree novel in to his ‘Palliser series’ is a novel dealing heavily with political power and personal ambition.

Political ambition, certainly seems to be one of the main motivating factors behind male actions in this book.

However, the women in this novel show a great deal of indecision in the course of the novel.

Why is Alice- the lead female protagonist, such a dithering fool? Can we forgive Alice for her lack of decisiveness. And as Alice is not the only dithering lady in the book, are we more inclined to forgive the other ladies in question (Lady Glencora and Mrs Greenow)?

As with all Trollope novels, there is much food for thought about the cause and effect of human actions.

 

Young Anne by Dorothy Whipple

‘Young Anne’ is the eighth and final Dorothy Whipple novel to be published by Persephone Books but in the grand chronology of things, is Whipple’s first and most autobiographical novel.
It is set in the years leading up to the First World War and follows the life and growth of Anne Pritchard, youngest child of a middle-class, Lancastrian family. The ‘Young’ in ‘Young Anne’ not only refers to the tender age of the female protagonist, it also helps to emphasize the extreme naïveté of Anne Pritchard, the mistakes that youth often make and the consequences of immature decision making on adult life.

 

The Lark by Edith Nesbit

This is the first time that I’ve ever read any adult literature by Nesbit and I couldn’t be more in love with this little gem of a novel.
The writing is airy and light, full of childlike whimsy and delight and the plot is delightful.
Two young women, upon coming of age discover that their inheritance has been misspent. They have no relatives to call their own, they are alone in the world – all they have been left as an endowment is a small country cottage and a trunkful of vintage clothing in the attic. Rather than get upset with this unfortunate turn of events, the two young women try their hand at a number of money-making ventures. They treat the whole situation as a ‘Lark’ and their attitude is so positive and cheery that they win a lot of friends along the way.
It is also a remarkable example of female determination and independence, much in keeping with the decision to publish this novel as part of a series dedicated to celebrating Penguin Women Writers and the centenary of women getting the vote in 1918.

 

Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton

Guard Your Daughters deals with the unconventional upbringing of five daughters. Five daughters, who despite a lack of formal education, shine in different ways. This is the story of their unusual way of life, sequestered from mainstream society due to the neuroses of an over protective mother.
I must admit that ‘Guard Your Daughters’ was one of those books, where one paragraph in, I just knew that this was going to be one of my most favourite books.
One can’t but help draw a comparison between Dodie Smith’s voice in ‘I Capture the Castle’ and Diana Tutton’s in this particular novel. Highly recommend this coming of age novel that deals with important issues of mental health.

 

The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham

This is the rather unlikely story of a small group of children, whose parents unexpectedly travel to Europe to attend to the needs of an ailing relative. The children are left unattended, without an adult to take care of them and when their parents don’t return or send word of their whereabouts – they are left in the strange
predicament of having to fend for themselves.
The landlord of the house where the family lived suddenly decides to evict them due to a sudden whim and the children have no recourse but to live in a nearby farmer’s barn.
The entire village is up in arms against the children and want them to separate and go to different homes. The children decide to fight all odds, stick together and eke out an existence in the barn.
Though the story is an unlikely one, the determination and initiative taken by the children is truly remarkable. I think it is a fascinating read for children and adults alike.
After all, how many of us as children have dreamt of being self sufficient and resourceful enough to have a small house/tree-house of our own- a private sanctuary where we act as independently and responsibly as grown ups?

 

The Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith

This brilliant Victorian epistolary novel – ‘Diary of a Nobody’ comes highly recommended if in need of comic relief on topics related to the absurdities of daily life.
If you loved ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’ you will certainly enjoy this novel.
The difference is that the tone of the provincial lady is self deprecating, whereas is this case Mr Pooter is bursting with self importance and a sad need of demanding respect from society.
The term ‘pooterish’ – is winsomely derived from the character of the lead protagonist in this book.

 

Fair Stood the Wind for France by HE Bates

Fair Stood the Wind for France’ by H E Bates is a war time work of fiction that deals with the story of a group of British airmen, who are compelled to make a forced landing in occupied France and have to take refuge in the home of a kind French family, who risk all they hold dear to help the men.
In particular it is the beautiful story of the love and trust that grows between the injured head flight pilot and the daughter of the French family.
Fair Stood the Wind for France was poignant, a World War Two story about love and trust and loss on an epic scale.

 

The Lark in the Morn by Elfrida Vipont

This lesser known but critically acclaimed children’s book author (winner of the Carnegie Medal in 1950) penned a series of books about the lives of a Quaker family living in England.
At times the mode of writing can seem a bit archaic but the beautiful plot of this, the first book, will have you grabbing the second book (Lark on the Wing) in no time at all.
A young, rather forlorn, motherless child realises her vocation in life – that of being a singer. Lark in the Morn charters her realisation of this process and Lark on the Wing – outlines her struggle to establish herself as a singer.
The storytelling in both books is very compelling. If you enjoy music and the arts, this is a particularly uplifting read.

Village Christmas by Miss Read

I spent the entire year reading all 12-13 books in Miss Read’s ‘Thrush Green’ series but ultimately it was Village Christmas, from the ‘Fairacre Series’ that stole my heart.
The book, in my opinion, can be read as a stand-alone.
It chronicles a day in the life of two elderly sisters, who are called upon quite suddenly, to help a needy neighbour on Christmas Day.
The story has all the wonderful light touches and beautiful details that make Miss Read’s books so endearing and comforting. I think I will be reading this book as part of an annual tradition.
Which was your favourite book of 2018? If I had to pick just one – I would say ‘Guard Your Daughters’.

 

 

Fair Stood the Wind for France by H.E. Bates

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I am reviewing this book as part of the #1944club, initiated by Simon David Thomas of ‘Stuck in a Book’and Karen of ‘Kaggsy’s Bookish Rambling’.

To take a look at other books published in the same year, reviewed by other bloggers, please take a look at the round up posts that should be up on the previously mentioned blogs.

‘Fair Stood the Wind for France’ by H E Bates is a war time work of fiction that deals with the story of a group of British airmen, who are compelled to make a forced landing in occupied France and have to take refuge in the home of a kind French family, who risk all they hold dear to help the men. In particular it is the beautiful story of the love and trust that grows between the injured head flight pilot and the daughter of the French family.

HE Bates’ ‘Darling Buds’ series is one that I read in my early teens and it has always been very dear to me. Apart from the obvious humour in the stories of the inimitable Larkin family, there is a beauty in Bates’ writing that brings out the best in all natural things. Moreover his writing has a sensual quality. With a keen eye for observing small details, one gets the idea, that here is a writer who knows how to live life to the lees and appreciates the small things.

The beautiful nature writing, descriptions of food, sensuality in describing human interactions and emotions is rendered just as beautifully in ‘Fair Stood the Wind France’. To add to that you have a moving love story and an epic struggle where the protagonists strive to find freedom.

The story starts with the British plane hovering over the French Alps during the night. There are some wonderful descriptions of the snow glistening on the mountains beneath the aircraft.

Sometimes the Alps lying below in the moonlight had the appearance of crisp folds of crumpled cloth. The glacial valleys were alternately shadowy and white as starch in the blank glare of the full moon; and then in the distances, in all directions, as far as it was possible to see, the high snow peaks were fluid and glistening as crests of misty water.

The man in charge of the aircraft, one John Franklin, feels a deep sense of responsibility for his crew of four sergeants, a responsibility that has grown over the year that they have flown together. It is the third summer of the War, tempers are rising, impatience is growing, a sense of uncertainty prevails.

When the engine of the aircraft fails, Franklin is forced to make an abrupt landing, in the dead of the night, in marshy terrain, in what they hope is Occupied France. I’m still confused why landing in this part of France was preferable.

Franklin seriously injures his arm during the impact of an abrupt landing. The crew take recourse to the medical help provided by a local French family. The family, consisting of a mill owner, his beautiful French daughter and aged mother provide the airmen with shelter at the risk of being shot and discovered.

Moreover, papers are procured for the British airmen- false papers that will take them across the border to unoccupied France and further to England. The path to safety is a long one and one that holds considerable risk. Even when the airmen reach the relative safety of unoccupied France, there is the risk from the French people themselves, who are impoverished and in need of food and money themselves.

The world that Bates paints is fraught with much strife, pain, suffering and uncertainty.

In fact this sense of uncertainty and helplessness pervades the entirety of the novel. From a year of publication perspective, the fact that the novel was published in 1944, when the outcome of the war effort was still uncertain, surely contributes to set the tone of the novel. Moreover, there is an overwhelming sense of sorrow, a deep sense of grief for the war and everything that it stands for, and the monstrous face of what it has turned the world and it’s people into.

He felt she was crying for something that he could never have understood without her and now did understand because of her. Deep and complete within himself, all these things were part of the same thing, and he knew that what she was crying for was the agony of all that was happening in the world.

’Fair Stood the Wind for France’ may  have become one of my most beloved wartime novels. The story is full of heartache and poignancy. I wonder how much of it was based on what Bates himself saw first hand, as a writer, commissioned by the RAF to write short stories?