Monthly Archives: September 2015

Name May Suggest the Opposite, But Lovesick by Angeles Mastretta is Not Your Usual Love Story

Lovesick by Mexican author Angeles Mastretta is not your usual love story. The name may sound like P.S. I love you, but the narrative isn’t. In the beginning of the reflection on the novel, I must also state that, the novel is not one of those Nicholas Sparks’ love stories where there are too many teary events and by the end, you’re left with the feeling of affable melancholy.

The novel is about Emilia Sauri and change of guards in Mexico. Emilia, daughter of Diego and Josefa is an unusual daughter of her unusual parents. Diego’s life ‘was as peaceful and pleasant as an endless Sunday. Monday lay forever on the far side of the ocean.’ To accompany him in the journey of life, Diego found Josefa in the city of Puebla, Mexico. ‘Conversation between them (Diego & Josefa) never died. Sometimes they talked till midnight, as they had just only met and other nights the dawn waked them with the compelling need to tell each other their latest dream.’ He was in love with Josefa. He settled down, established a pharmacy in Josefa’s city. Emilia was born and blessed in the later part of 19th century. Her father looked at her as if she was the dawn of 20th century, nothing less than the incarnation of modernity in the new age.

WP_20150913_20_02_04_ProAt the time of her birth, Josefa’s sister and her maternal aunt- Milagros touched her head and said the strangest blessing you may have ever heard, ‘Child for you I wish the madness, valor, yearning, impatience. May you have the good fortune of love and the delirium of solitude. A taste for comets, water, and men. Intelligence and wit. Curious eyes, a nose that remembers, a mouth that smiles and curses with godly precision, legs that never grow old, tears that restore wholeness, For you I wish the sense of time of the stars, the temperament of the ants, and the doubts of the temples. And may you have faith in auguries, the voices of the dead, the lips of the adventurous, the peace of men who forgot their destinies, the strength of your memories and of the future as a promise that holds all you have yet to experience. Amen.’ The blessing of the aunt became her destiny.

She fell in love, in the times when Mexico was brewing with revolutions and counter revolutions. Her lover Daniel was engrossed in politics wanted to change the system. He hated the idea of routine. ‘Sometimes he was terrified at the thought of giving up his nomadic life, his certainty that there was no truer freedom than waking one morning in one bed and the next in different one, of never eating at the same table long enough for the food to become familiar to the palate.’ Revolutions after revolutions failed him, but politics kept him interested and alive. He traversed the Mexican landscape, met all sorts of revolutionaries, fought wars and came back to Emilia, ‘Once again he took refuge in her, as he told her that in all the world there was no other hiding place for him’. Emilia’s only fear in the relationship was that he should not get bored of her. Distances kept fires within them enflamed.

As foretold this is the story of Emilia and Daniel wasn’t the only passion which consumed her. Her pharmacist father informed her about the world of herbs and medicines. Daniel’s father Dr. Cuenca became her guide in the medical profession. Formally and informally she learned the art of healing, and was enrolled in the medical school in Chicago. Destiny has had a different plan, as her mother Josefa always said ‘it was not necessary to pursue destiny, because nothing was less foreseeable yet so surprising in its innate predictability than fate.’

Antonio, a doctor by profession, falls for her. He becomes a regular to Diego’s house. Does she fall in love with him? Certainly! What happens to Daniel? Spoiler alert, he has been blessed with nine lives. He resurrects again and again, love between them never died. What happens to Antonio, grab the novel and read it. Angeles Mastretta has written a long poem in the form of prose filled with war and healing, long journeys and desire of settling down. Margaret Sayers Peden should be given due credit for translating it so well. Where will you get it? I found it in the overflowing bookstore – Blossoms, Church Street, in exchange of a lunch offering
to a friend.


Story of a Woman Alone on a Train (in auto) Concealing Dark Secrets

In our political discourse and while listening to the sermons of economists we are told that there are two Indias: One that is rising and shining and the other which is backward and drowning under the debt and violence. ‘The Cosmpolitans’ by Anjum Hasan sees through the given artificial binary, to move beyond it. It becomes the story of many Indias- Bangalore, Benares, Simhala, Ispatnagar, Dharti. In the story we see those many Indias through the eyes of an ‘almost’ menopausal woman, Qayenaat, ‘Qayenaat, meanwhile, came to believe that the world is divided into people who performed their lives and people who were audience for this performance; she with her shyness and her patchy history fell, naturally in the second category.’ Though she believes that she falls in the second category, she is the most important performer.

WP_20150906_22_24_48_ProAnjum in a recent interview for a daily was asked about the life around art, as according to the columnist, the given novel is about art. Her response was that ‘it’s hard to say with absolute certainty what you’re trying to express through the novel.’ That’s the beauty of ‘The Cosmopolitans’ as it touches many dimensions.

Certainly it is about art…there is dance, nostalgia– a humongous room installation, paintings and the life around art, but there is more to it. Not sure whether other readers have observed or will notice the fact that novel is also about ‘news’. The narrative begins with the news and throughout the story, to my understanding, news remain a common thread. The indifference to the news and becoming a part of news is the path which protagonist Qayenaat keeps traversing unknowingly.

In my adolescent years, I read almost all novels written by Punjabi novelist Dilip Kaur Tiwana. She is still my favorite author. The sublime themes like firm belief in ideology and rituals, demise and tyranny of royalty, banality and at the same time intensity of human relationships were part of Tiwana’s early works. ‘The Cosmopolitans’ takes a similar route. This is why at surface level it may come out as a work of an English speaking Indian author, but if ploughed a little deeper it smells or reeks of vernacular landscape which extends from Shivaji Nagar, Sir M.V. Nagar in Bangalore to an architectural disaster (as described in novel) Modern Nritya Academy in Simhala. There are references to resurgent temples of modern India- Damodar Valley Project, Farakka Barrage – idealism of a bygone age and visit to neoliberal avenues like Whitefield, Yeshvantpur. ‘A woman alone on a train (in an auto) concealing a dark secret’ is crisscrossing them. For many reasons, novel has a strange resemblance and at times the pace of a recent Bollywood movie ‘Dedh Ishqia’.

Metaphors like ‘denseness of clogged toilet pipe’ and ‘anxiety bubbling through her like a tablet taking its time to dissolve in a glass of water’, makes the banalities and secretiveness of the story more intriguing. Worth reading over a weekend with a cup of tea!