I am about to begin the first day of what may be my last year of college, the last year of being a student, just one more decisive little push away from childhood. Just now I had to take out this book and scan the cover, because there isn’t a good copy of it online, there isn’t even a Wikipedia page; and I had been very particular about wanting to post this cover because this is the image I will always associate with this novel, and the summer vacations at school spent reading about and imagining the Dehra Dun of Ruskin Bond’s stories.
So reading The Room on the Roof was a watershed of adolescence, as Bond perhaps intended it to be. I’d started reading Bond in instalments that came out in TeleKids, back when the children’s supplement of The Telegraph used to be published on Thursdays. Those were the, um… ‘safer’ stories. Growing up, I was entirely unacquainted with books that could be categorized as straightforward romances — sweet and simple boy-meets-girl stories — because my puritanical parents put a blanket ban on anything that promoted ‘that kind of thing’. I never read a Mills-and-Boon at an age when I might’ve enjoyed them. Never watched a Bollywood film at the theatre till I was old enough to watch them with friends. The ideal level of maturity for being excited about Love Story and Gone with the Wind passed me uneventfully by. But my parents didn’t actually look into the content of a book beyond the cover and the blurb, so I ended up reading a lot of potentially risque literature like The Godfather and The Diary of a Young Girl before I even entered high school. The Room on the Roof was the first of that long list. I remember reading the novel over and over again, trying to come to terms with it, trying to decide if I liked it or hated it, trying to decide if I should like or hate it, wanting to discuss it with someone and never finding the ideal person. (Kids at the school I went to really did not read.) I haven’t returned to this book in more than ten years, but of late I am repeatedly reminded of how great an impression it has left on my mind. I can’t even recall the entire story to details but it keeps resurfacing, it’s like a latent obsession that had never quite gone away. I guess that’s a sign of a book being more than a just a story. More of a memory and an experience.
The collected short stories of pretty much the only female author I enjoy reading, this book is intelligent, fetishistic and sparkling like a treasure chest.
Angela Carter is a much-theorized author, the kind whose books are put in feminism and queer studies syllabi at universities. Most other authors who share such lists are, honestly, barely readable for the sake of pure fun. They do not like the world as it is. They rebel and complain and scold and sermonize and put the fear of political correctness in you. Most female authors I’ve come across (feminist or not) either tend to scold-and-sermonize, or quietly sidestep gender/sexuality from their subject matter. On the other hand, most erotic writing I’ve come across is intended primarily at men. It makes me squirm to read them. I’m irritated by the casual misogyny and more often than not deeply pained by the quality of writing that’s simply bad. Angela Carter comes along and blasts away all these problems like a raging tornado. The short stories are the best things she’s written, they’re rich with literary (lots of Shakespeare, yay!), historical and mythological references, unselfconscious, guilt-free and intense. There’s no other writing in the world that can quite compare.
Admittedly, I am a poor appreciator of cinema. I haven’t always made it a point to watch the film adaptations of the books I’ve loved, and I’ve almost never read up the original novels of some of the films I liked. Of the latter, the best example would be:
I love the film with a fervour. I just cannot drag myself through the book, even though I know it’s a masterpiece in its own right. Then again, a ‘book’ doesn’t necessarily mean novel, and there will always be these favourite play adaptations like A Streetcar Named Desire. Of play adaptations, again, Shakespeare adaptations demand a story of their own. (The Shakespeare obsession is, I suspect, an inevitable effect of a training in English literature. When I started college, I was Shakespeare-neutral. Four years down the line, however, I cannot help making a concession for Shakespeare.) Anyway, if I had to choose one film from the multitude of Shakespeare adaptations, I will (perhaps a little oddly) go with Omkara, which is one of the rare recent Hindi films that I’ve watched and enjoyed a lot.
I am very ‘taensh’, but I love Vishal Bharadwaj’s cinema. I love his vision and style and choice of locations and the vitality of his characters, I love his soundtracks, and I’m reminded of Tim Supple’s comment about Shakespeare’s work being ‘messy and wonderful’, which is exactly how this film is.
Finally, at the risk of repeating myself, I cannot possibly conclude a post on my favourite-book-turned-into-a-movie without a mention of this:
The book moved me so much that I can never judge the film objectively, but this is such an utterly beautiful adaptation. I love Ralph Fiennes. I love him a little less for playing Voldemort in the Harry Potter films, but going back to Wuthering Heights and The English Patient always makes me forgive him that crime.
There isn’t a book of fiction, theory or non-fic narrative that I like and find too embarrassing to admit. This, however, is a different story altogether. ‘Belief’ is a much abused (and rather murky) word in our time, and I won’t be murdering anyone for being born in the wrong month; but zodiac personality analysis does happen to be one of my favourite pastimes. It’s a subject I broach cautiously into conversations, only after assessing the other person’s level of tolerance for such. I am deeply defensive of the habit, less of the system itself than of my complete right to believe in it as long as I keep my faith to myself. (I.e. Go mind your own business, now.)
It all began with this book, which I did not buy for at least four years since I started maniacally reading it, borrowing it in turns from different people for the sheer mortification of being caught owning such a book. The copy that I finally bought last year has already become well-thumbed, along with my copy of Love Signs. I will un-approve all snide, disapproving, preachy comments to this post. Bye bye.
Yet again a problematic question, for although I love short books, I’m not sure up to how short may be considered a ‘proper’ book. So I’m going to write about this little book that I recently bought and loved very much.
Lyra’s Oxford contains a short story, a fictitious map and a couple of other meta-fictional knicknacks. I love maps of fictitious locations and meta-fictional extras, which is why The Black Dossier is also my favourite volume of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. I had borrowed all three of core books of His Dark Materials from the library, but when I saw this one I had to buy it. I love the A-format, the red cloth binding and pseudo-woodcut illustrations. The series itself I don’t like consistently but this book is just perfect.