Black Water Lilies – An artist’s wet dream

​This book had been eyeing me since all of last year. At the airport, on my Instagram feed, lists of must-read books and at every bookstore I waltzed into – which were many and quite often. It was everywhere. Late last year, I finally gave in and got myself a copy.
A gripping read
Black Water Lilies by Michel Bussi is based in the French village of Giverny where Impressionist painter Claude Monet had lived and worked, from 1883 to 1926. He created a magnificent garden that was the subject of his paintings, and went on to make numerous renditions of the water lilies that graced the pond. This garden is exceptionally beautiful, with its azaleas and pines, wisterias and even a Japanese bridge. I was quite unaware about the existence of the water garden, but this book made me look it up, and it is beyond words. It left me stumped. Those who love working with colours would have a field day here. No wonder Monet said he was in raptures when in his garden. It looks breathtaking.

The world of Giverny is first introduced to the readers, making them acquainted with the residents and describing the intense beauty of the place they live in. The story talks of the inhabitants that are under the dark cloud of murder. The sequence of events takes place in a span of thirteen days, when Monet’s house and gardens are thrown open to tourists. The story begins with the murder of Jerome Morval, an ophthalmologist, who was found dead in the stream that runs through the gardens. The police find a postcard of Monet’s Water Lilies in his pocket with this sentence written on the back – ‘Eleven years old. Happy Birthday.’ Jerome was known to be quite the ladies’ man, finding his way into their hearts and pants. Quite the character. Pity, he was the one who died.

The book starts with the following words:

‘Three women lived in a village.
The first was mean, the second a liar, and the third an egotist.’

It had me hooked.

In the scheme of things are these three women, of three ages, with vastly different personalities. The young Fanette Morelle who was a gifted painter, the vivacious Stephanie Dupain who was interested in artists and the third was the oldest, the narrator. I must add I was quite jealous of Fanette. She was a child prodigy, someone so gifted that she could spin magic with her brush and colours. Yes, I wish I had talent like that. Stephanie, who taught the children in the village school, was drop-dead gorgeous. Men couldn’t keep their heads on their shoulders when they were around her. And the last, the old lady, spoke her true mind. She didn’t mince words. And this is something I’ve come to realise. The older we get, the more we stop bothering about what to say and where to say it. The filter in our minds gets rusty, or we just tend to ignore it. But the narrator, boy, I’d stay out of her way.

One of Monet’s many paintings on water lilies
(Source: Google)

There are also two policemen investigating the murder. The dashing Inspector Laurenc Serenac, who was recently transferred to Giverny. He’s part of the young force, and brings with him his quirky brand of humour and weird investigation techniques. To be honest, in the beginning I didn’t quite like him. He didn’t have the characteristics I’d expect a typical policeman to possess. But later, I guess he grew on me. His deputy, Inspector Sylvio Benavides, is more of a reliable person, always keeping his finger on all facts, and not believing in everything related to gut instincts. In what seems like an initial mismatch of a pairing, later blends into a great partnership. And while I thought Laurenc didn’t care about his deputy, it was much later when I realised that was not the case. I guess some of us need time to warm up to others.

Those who are close to me know I am quite the reluctant traveller. Always tense, never at ease and this is why I love reading books that almost transport me to another place, where I get to soak in the ambience, acquaint myself with new surroundings, familiarise myself with the inhabitants of a new world and immerse myself in their lives. This book was nothing short of a treat. It sprouted in me the yearning to pick up a brush again. Every description was so lush, so rich, it left me quite mesmerised.
Note the following lines, how they’re so evocative:
‘The clear water of the stream is tinted pink, in small threads, like the fleeting pastel shades of water in which a paint brush is being rinsed.’

In short, pick up this book. Please. It will take you on a wonderful journey. I, for once, read it so slowly, savouring the lines, its construction, enjoying the details. I would often read some paragraphs over and over again, hoping to memorise the descriptions of the gardens, inserting them in my brain. I don’t think if I’ll ever get to see Monet’s ethereal gardens in real life or his home with rooms painted in bright pop of colours. Who knows? Someday, may be.

 

Kindly note: I prefer not to term my posts on books as reviews, but musings, sharing my opinions, how it made me feel and the thoughts that streamed through my head while reading them. 

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Dharamshala International Film Festival

I wish I could have seen them all!

This year started with a list of must-do things and a host of goals to fulfill. Although there are a number of things I am yet to complete, or will sadly remain unfulfilled, I’m happy to say that travelling out of the city for a festival can be struck off the list. Check!

I had been wanting to visit the Dharamshala International Film Festival since a few years, but I’m a reluctant traveller and well, always in debt. This year, the currents changed their course and well, I managed to not just plan the entire trip but also book tickets and everything, dragging my good friend M from the pile of work she’s usually buried in. Logistics and transport just give me the heebie-jeebies. I surprised myself at the initiative I took and managed to work all this out.

DIFF for me was my first film festival, and an opportunity to break away from my everyday life. Up in the mountains, at an ordinary auditorium of a Tibetan school, the festival was brought alive by a team of effervescent participants, people from all walks of life could be seen busy in deep conversations, huddled near the warm food stalls.

One of the venues at the festival. This was an auditorium at the Tibetan school.

There did not seem much fanfare at the festival as is wont to have at other festivals, or so I’ve heard, but the lineup of movies was astounding. Although I was unable to watch the film I wanted to, I definitely do not regret seeing the ones I did. M bumped into a colleague while the shuttle from McLeodganj took us to the venue. (Just a point, this shuttle was such a lifeline for us.) He suggested we watch Abu by Arshad Khan, and was marked as a do-not-miss.

Abu, a documentary based on director Arshad Khan’s life, his evolution from a carefree boy to accepting his sexuality and his relationship with his father, a devout Muslim. Arshad had copious footage of his early life, a well-to-do life early life in Pakistan where his family and extended relatives and friends would get-together for occasions and weddings. It was interesting to see the typical large families of those days, women carefree and dancing, anglicised and enjoying a life I’ve only heard about. Arshad’s father was always indulgent in having the latest technology at home, and the family had a video recorder at a time and age many hadn’t even seen one. The documentary traces their lives from Pakistan to Canada, and Arshad’s battle with recognizing his true self.

As Arshad’s father could never gel well in the landscape of Canada and moved towards the religion. However, the bit where he falls ill and is hospitalised, I found myself crying. I just couldn’t stop the tears. They just came streaming down my cheeks. I remember the time when I saw my brother in the hospital and the memories came screaming back. I repress these memories, but sometimes it gets difficult to tamp them down.

Anyhoo, after this wonderful documentary, we had quite a lot of time on our hands. I made a beeline for a cappuccino, while M started wandering around the many stalls. We picked up a couple of bags, notebooks and Tibetan prayer flags. Difficult not to shop when on a holiday.

Nursing hot coffee and ambling through the stalls.

The second movie, well, this one just left me stumped. It has a stellar cast, fabulous storyline and the visuals… crazy beautiful. Who knew such brilliant movies are being made in this country when all we get to see are those chirpy idiots all taken up by their song and dance. The Hungry directed by Bornila Chatterjee has Tisca Chopra, Naseeruddin Shah and Sayani Gupta among the faces I could recognise. A modern adaptation of Shakespeare’s play – Titus Andronicus – was astounding. It was pure bliss to watch this film. I do not want to dwell on the storyline too much, other than mention how money, greed, love, lust and jealousy all come into play in this adaptation of the bard’s work.

I really wanted to see this film. I think it has something to do with food. :)

 

Though I was able to only see two films, nevertheless I know this is just the beginning for me. I will definitely try to visit the festival next year with more time to spare.

The energy of that space, feeling the chill in my bones my still excited about lineup, waiting patiently for the gates to open and the low hum of chatter, excited about the arts, about cinema and how life meanders in strange, delightful ways.

Doofus Diaries – A Photography Challenge 

So earlier this year, I had made a really long laundry list of things to do, places to see, books to read and food to eat as part of a resolution for the year ahead. Completing a photography challenge was one of them. It took me six months to actually get down to doing it, and I must say, a month-long challenge made me introspect more, going through my pictures or daily clicking everyday pictures around me made me ‘stop and stare’. If only for a while. And it helped me appreciate and be grateful for what I had.

 

I chose Instagram as my medium of choice considering pictures would be the main showcase. Here are some of the images I put up, the ones I love the most.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Watch

There’s a distinct nip in the air, the cool breeze serenading before the sun slips below the horizon. Almost nine Gypsies stood in a jagged arc, its passengers straining their eyes and necks to catch a distant glimpse of the famed tigress of Jim Corbett National Park, its first citizen. After a day filled with bumpy rides through the dusty savannahs and tree lined paths in the jungle, we waited impatiently. Everyone tried to make no noise, veteran photographers were at their silent best. The jovial boys did get onto my nerves, taking the angry glances of others in their stride… but I ignored them. The landscape was awash with its breathtaking array of colours, of rusty yellow and pale green, sandy hues and shades of blue…I now understood why travellers love visiting Jim Corbett, why every visitor comes back mesmerised and always yearning to go back.

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The Opium War – A heady read

​I was but a child when I had read Tintin’s adventures in The Blue Lotus, where the spunky reporter unearthed opium smuggling racket between China and Japan. It was my first encounter with the word ‘opium’ and I still clearly remember the dark, gloomy panels that depicted the opium dens. Surly faced men lying on their sides smoking a pipe. And though I may not have known about the cultivation of opium in India, I had an inkling of what a drug was.

So back in 2016, when I came across The Opium War by Julia Lovell at the World Book Fair, I snapped it right up. The tagline runs as ‘Drugs, dreams and the making of China’. Didn’t think twice beyond that. China, it’s history and culture has always fascinated me, and I try to read as much as I can about it.

Such a pretty cover :)

The author Lovell teaches Modern Chinese History in London and has also published other non-fictional works on China for various publications, while also translating Chinese fiction. The book is split across nineteen chapters with a detailed appendix, maps for reference and a quick guide on Chinese names and romanisation.

The earliest Chinese reference of the drug was in 8th century and mainly Used for medicinal purposes. Opium-enriched aphrodisiacs was a booming industry in Ming China (1368-1644).

It was with the import of opium in the tobacco form that led to the smoking of the drug during 1573-1627, and smoking opium soon became a status symbol.

“In 1780, a British East India Company ship could not break even on a single opium cargo shipped to Canton. By 1839, imports were topping 40,000 chests per annum.”

The British shipped in opium because they wanted to address the trade deficit they were facing. They needed tonnes of tea leaves and silks from China, but China didn’t need much from them in return. China felt a threat not just to its political stability but economic well being as the Empire seemed to be running out of silver. Silver was the currency in which taxes and the army were paid.

Two opium wars were fought between the British and China in the 1800s, and were mainly due to conflicts regarding trade, diplomatic relations and justice system. The import of opium into China had rendered many locals useless as they were more often than not caught up in the heady fumes of the drug. Chinese armies across years have been rendered useless as the soldiers were heavily under the influence of opium. The Chinese army were unable to match the armed weaponry of the British, while their war tactics too failed miserably. Corruption was rampant from top to down, with many Chinese, be it generals or mere foot soldiers, reaching out to the British and pocketing profits.

The book is exhaustive with rich descriptions, but the narrative kept me hooked. It may not be termed as a page-turner akin to mystery novels, but not once did I get bored. Lovell has explained every scene so well I could almost visualise it my mind and that’s the best kind of writing. Though it did take me time to finish the book, I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and the book will make it to the top ten reads of this year.

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