What the Dickens


Having recently watched the entire season 1 of Dickensian, the TV series from BBC1, which over the course of twenty half hourly episodes spans the entire spectrum of Charles dickens books giving a prelude to each and every one of dickens immortal characters and their motivations for behaving as they do in the books, I embarked on the next logical step for every diehard dickens fan. To re-read the entire oeuvre, every single one of dickens books again. And not only that but this time I wanted to do it in the proper chronological order in which they were written/published by the author -from his first book Sketches by Boz which he published under a pseudonym to his last and uncompleted novel- Mystery of Edwin Drood halfway through writing which Charles dickens died suddenly. I decided to make a proper job of it and have spent the last one month finishing up the dickens collection and here are a few stray thoughts on re-reading dickens after a lapse of so many years.

To begin with (to my surprise) I found that some of my old favourites like pickwick papers and nickolas nickelby though favourites still, are no longer capable of gripping my attention like a few others which I once deemed to be too morbid or morose in the past. The antics of the pickwickians and the incorrigible sam weller still raises a few laughs when I re-read the books but now the entire gang seem like one of the old familial  whatsaap groups you drop in from time to time just to check who’s still in there but otherwise leave well alone despite the notifications. The ones which I enjoyed now include bleak house, great expectations, oliver twist and mystery of Edwin drood.

Bleak house which as the name suggests is every bit as bleak a story can be, absolutely captivated me when I re-read it this past month. The fictitious legal story of jarndyce vs jarndyce, the great case of the chancery courts has very eerie similarity to what we see and read every day in Indian courts and justice system. The way that cases are postponed indefinitely till the parties to the case conveniently die off and the court costs swallow up the entire property, the way the lawyers on both sides collude to keep dragging the case till the unfortunate litigants are forced to regret to their graves the day they stepped into court expecting justice in a mistaken belief of the majesty of law and fair play – everything seems to have been written just for Indian courts and legal system.

 The book “bleak house” left me wondering if our Indian judiciary is right now where the British courts where 300 years ago- an uncaring, money squeezing enterprise capable of driving everyone- both litigants and witnesses to despair with the never ending process of offering justice. In a span of nearly two centuries after the book was first published the British seem to have improved their justice system to such an extent that British law has turned into a more responsible version of itself now. But although we Indians inherited that same legal code and the same system of judiciary we did not, to our eternal misfortune, inherit the same system of accountability for the processes of law which the British have instilled in their justice system. I guess it will take another 300 more years (at least?) till Indian courts become accountable to the common public and cases will be decided when the litigants are still alive to hear the news of the judgments. Till then every day you can see another travesty of a jarndyce vs jarndyce in Indian law.

The next book I really loved this time was great expectations which when I was younger I never really appreciated to the extent I do now. Although the book is filled with despicable characters none of whom can claim the least amount of sympathy from us the readers, the book is a very fine example of the folly of people who are always maneuvering to gain the smallest bit of advantage in their personal lives by often missing the big picture entirely in their micro management. If we look around ourselves we can see a lot of typical characters from great expectations in real life every single day. All those ass kissers, boot lickers, revengeful persons who spend all their life plotting to gains some minuscule bit of advantage over someone else- every single character in great expectations sounds true to life and sitting just beside you in the next cubicle at work. And now that I am older and wiser and been through enough heartbreaks I can appreciate miss Havisham’s character more clearly although I cannot countenance any sympathy for her because in my view she deserves what she got for being who she is- a haughty, imperious egoistic feminist who falls for the worst possible fraud. Great expectations is the definitive lesson to every single girl who friend zones nice guys for not agreeing with their feminazi views. If any man wholeheartedly agrees with the femi-nazis there is no doubt he is a compeyson in the making who kisses ass just to screw her out of her money later on. Nice guys don’t always win is the take home message from great expectations.

The other book I liked when I reread it this time around were the mystery of Edwin drood- dickens only attempt at writing a detective novel and the only one which he left unfinished, which in a way is the perfect ending for the book. For although we can suspect every one and the uncle character is steadfastly built up to be the evil villain the book reflects the real life conundrum that sometimes perfect crimes can never be exposed and villains do get away with them. In my view as a lifelong dickens fan I believe that Edwin drood should be left well alone as it is without being finished by someone else as is often proposed by amateur dickens societies. The mystery of Edwin drood should remain a mystery till the end as maybe dickens planned?

I also could look on and sympathize a whole lot with dickens complex characters who require a certain maturity to understand them. I can now confidently say that I understand better ralph nickelby’s (the evil uncle from Nicholas nickelby) motivations perfectly well. Here was a man, a self made man who had worked hard to get where he was suddenly in the twilight of his life thrust upon with fawning relatives left behind by a man careless enough to have children but with no thought to provide for them except to believe his rich brother (the brother who started life at the same footing as him) would provide for just because he doesn’t have a family to call his own and all his money has to go somewhere and where else except to the wastrel brothers brood of kids who grow up thinking themselves entitled to it. No wonder ralph nickelby is bitter at his dead brother and his groping relatives.

Similar is the case with Fagin. Here was a man who took in runaways and wastrels and street kids and gave them a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. In return he made use of them to rob rich people of frivolities life pocket handkerchiefs. is he such a villain then? When the entire society has turned a blind eye to homeless kids and strays who live on the streets, this man takes them in and makes us of them. Just like the government does in its workhouses. I don’t see that Fagin is such a great villain as he is made out in the later adaptations on TV and film. Remember if he was such a bad man who harassed his kid the dodger for one, a genuine badass himself, wouldn’t have stuck around and defended Fagin as he did for so long. There is equal parts good and bad in characters like Fagin. It takes a long time and many re-readings to understand his point of view. And there lies dickens genius. To make you look at old familiar characters in a new light every time you re-read the same book.

I hope I haven’t been boring you with this doctoral dissertation level analysis of dickens novels. If you too are a fan of dickens or even if you have just read one or two of his novels write in to me in the comments section and we wil have a ball discussing our views.



All’s Well for an Optimist

All’s Well for an Optimist.

So the news is, Actress Jiah khan committed suicide (recently) due to a failed relationship. If everyone with failed relationships ended up committing suicide the earth would pretty soon be de-populated. I am not; pardon me, making fun of Jiah Khan, dead that she is now. I am merely pointing out the incongruity of her actions when she had a bright and independent future ahead of her, a future which might not have included a happy relationship but had almost everything else her heart desired.

Her first movie (and the only movie i saw of her) Nishabd proved that she was a fine actress, considering that the only part of her acting we saw on-screen was her toned legs. But that’s par for the course with Ram Gopal Varma, for his movies feature specific body parts in place of heroines – like Urmila matondkar’s butt, Antara mali’s abs and Priyanka kothari’s breasts. The actresses themselves are not germane to RGV’s movies, just their assets are all that is required and shown on the big screen.

Anyway to return to Jiah khan, she could have benefited from adequate help or psychological counseling in time, but actresses are both narcissistic and afraid of public opinion. These celebrities are adept at hiding their wounds from everyone and hence suffer more, compared to the ordinary mortals like us who rant and rave everywhere when our hearts are broken. And which in its own way is an effective pill for our ills, a stress busting cry for help, bringing succor from near and dear friends.

Which brings me to the story of my friend who has recently undergone heartbreak. She is the celebrity type who believes that a break-up is the end of the world as she knows. While i, wise old man that i am, have been telling her that love is fleeting and to be enjoyed and remembered only and even if grasped tightly cannot be retained without spilling out of our hands like water. At a certain point of time when it happens, love will seem all there is to life, but if you move on you will be left with just the good memories and a sense of closure.

And that’s my personal philosophy based on my personality. But it might not be applicable to everyone for some people are inherently pessimistic. While some, like me, are the polar opposite- the extreme optimists like Micawber in David Copperfield. If you remember that glass is full/half/empty analogy- people are divided into pessimists, optimists and realists. But no one is fully one thing or the other all the time. We alternate depending on our moods and circumstances. Sometimes we are one and sometimes we are another.

In the middle of a company of boisterous friends even the most pessimistic of people feel that there must be something more to life other than this sadness they are feeling. Lying alone on a bed, in the dark hours of the night, even the most ardent optimist feels the pangs of pessimism when reality strikes and we take a good hard look at our current life and say to ourselves “hold on, my life sucks. Is this how it is going to be five years or ten years down the line too? How can I face such a future?”

Such doubts which are crushed deep inside ourselves during busy daytime activities strike unexpectedly in the deep reaches of the night when our psychological defenses are down and we feel all alone. The optimist faces these doubts and fears just like the pessimist does. While the pessimists give in to their fears and despair of ever being happy again, the optimists’ soldier on, hoping for a turning point and postponing any important decisions till the morning comes.

And when you wake up in the morning and see a fresh new day with a bright sun shining outside, then you realize that you are at the start of a glorious day, a day with endless possibilities, where anything might happen before night falls. You tell yourself that THIS is the day that your luck turns, the dice fall your way and all your wishes will be gratified and you believe it wholeheartedly and go out with a smile on your lips. And sometimes it comes true too. Even if not, well there is always tomorrow and a fresh start again.

So the difference between an optimist and pessimist is that while a pessimist believes that tomorrow will be the same as today, while the optimist believes that tomorrow will turn out different and everything wished for will happen. And the super-optimists like me? Well, we believe that tomorrow comes in the next hour and everything will change by evening. If there is one thing which life has taught me it is that life is very consistent in its inconsistencies. Nothing is the same again. Things change in a jiffy- for good or bad. No one can predict what comes next- the unsinkable Titanic sunk, didn’t it? So if bad things can happen so suddenly why not expect the obverse? That good things might happen too, unexpectedly?

Imagine such good things happening to you and go out with a smile every day. As a last resort console yourself with the idea that a man who eats one meal a day need not be afraid to starve while he eats thrice a day should be afraid of famine. So if your life already sucks then hey, you got nothing to be frightened of anymore, right? And so look forward with hope and believe it’s just around that corner or will happen tomorrow definitely.

In the immortal words of Charles dickens character mr.micawber from David Copperfield “What if something turns up?” and his motto “Remember my motto -Nil Desperandum! -Never despair!”

And so I am waiting for something to turn up soon. And will never despair. Do so likewise, dear friends.