The Week in Review
Worry not about this pompous-sounding headline. I’m not saying a THING about retail FDI, the Lokpal Bill or even the slap on Sharad Pawar’s face. I’m just revelling in a few books and TV programmes that I liked this week (actually, this fortnight, but The Fortnight in Review doesn’t sound as good as The Week in Review), and I’m bursting to talk about them.
First up: Masterchef Australia. Can I tell you how GLAD I am that it’s finally ended? Season 3 wasn’t half as good as Season 2 for some indefinable reason. So though I did watch most of it, it wasn’t with the same fervour as I’d watched it last year when I flatly refused to go anywhere if it meant I had to miss an episode, or even talk to anyone while an episode was being aired.
I don’t know why it didn’t work for me this year. Maybe because the contestants were so boring? Last year, everyone had a distinct personality and it was genuinely hard to pick a favourite or watch anyone be eliminated because I liked them ALL. This year, I actively wanted some contestants out, and I didn’t care who made it through to the end. It was just a show, that’s all. (Though, in the finale on Monday, I was pleased that Kate rather than Michael had won.) Hope season 4, if there is one, is more like season 2.
Which leads me to Masterchef USA. I hated it, hated it, HATED it last year, but two episodes down this year (admittedly only two, but they inspire hope), I think I could get hooked to it.
What I find amazing is the contrast between the two Masterchefs. The Aussies, in the opening, shortlisting episodes, were earnest, hopeful, nervous, apparently there for the possible life changingness of it all. The Americans on the other hand seem over-confident (mostly), there for the money (mostly) and set to perform for an audience. (I can’t talk about Masterchef India cos the show lost me after the fourth episode. I didn’t hate it this time, but I didn’t like it either. It just seemed neither here nor there.) Whether the Americans are as earnest about their cooking and desperate to learn as the Aussies seemed to be I don’t know yet. But I’m willing to give up one hour of my reading time every week night for at least the next two weeks to find out.
Which brings me to books. This fortnight, I’ve read three (not counting PG Wodehouse: A Life in Letters) that I rather liked.
The first is Heart to Heart: Remembering Nainaji by Vidya Rao, a memoir by the thumri singer about her guru Nainaji. Now, I know NOTHING about Indian music – in fact I have NO culture at all, even though my mother tried so hard to instill some in me (I ‘learned’ bharatnatyam, the harmonium, singing, painting, the piano, none of which I could do a thing with) – so I wasn’t certain I’d like this book, but I loved it.
It’s really well written and Vidya Rao puts Nainaji so well in context that even though I know nothing about music, I felt I understood that most fascinating world.
I’m so glad that books like this are being written, not only for people who know and are interested in the arts, but for people like me who haven’t a clue. Books like Sheila Dhar’s Raga ‘n Josh and Namita Devidayal’s The Music Room and now Vidya Rao’s Heart to Heart have really opened that world to me. For which I can only say, thank you.
Next, and completely different is another book I thought I wouldn’t like: Ice Boys in Bell Bottoms by Krishna Shastri Devulapalli. It’s the first in a trilogy of books about a boy growing up in Madras, and though I thought that, structurally, it’s a bit awry, it’s funny and pretty well written and I want to see where it goes next.
The reason I’m bothered by the structure is that, if this is about one boy, it should actually have been one book in three parts, not three separate books. That’s because the first book – growing up till age 15 when disaster strikes and suddenly there’s some real growing up to do – is filled with delicious chapters about the boy’s life and experiences with his loony family, loony neighbours and loony school mates and teachers, but there’s absolutely zero plot till the last chapter when, obviously, this loony life has got to change. So though I enjoyed the book, I just kept wondering where it was going. In this form, it would have worked much better as the first part of a bigger book, I think. Or it should have been a full novel in itself.
Still, worth reading, I think. Good for much laughter.
And finally, a book I haven’t finished as yet, so perhaps I shouldn’t talk about it now. Pelagia and the Red Rooster by Boris Akunin.
I haven’t read Akunin before though I’ve flipped through his books quite often. I finally bought this one for the rather ignoble reason that it seemed like a feel-good book (Pelagia is a Russian Orthodox nun who happens to be a good detective) and an unashamedly feel-good book was just what I needed.
Though the style is gentle and contemplative and quietly amusing, and though I suspect that the book, when I finish it, could well leave me feeling good, halfway through it as I am now, it’s clearly not JUST a feel-good book. It’s a feel-good book that KICKS! And I like it very, very much.
So it’s a good job that I’ve never read Boris Akunin before. That means there’s that many more books by him that I can chase.