Why did it take me 30 years to appreciate Shakespeare’s Greatness!

It was 30 years ago that I read multiple works of Shakespeare as part of my university course, among them King Lear, which I thought was the most boring. I was only twenty years of age, but was it okay for a literature student to not appreciate a great work by one of the greatest literary figures ever!

And suddenly this morning it all clicked into place, the essence and truth of the theme of King Lear. IT IS AN AGELESS PLOT, but you can only comprehend it fully when you get to live it, in life!

This morning, at 4am,as I reread the scenes, I can’t stop my tears from streaming down , for in this now, the scenes unfold with such clarity and meaning it hurts me real painful.

The story briefly:

The story opens in ancient Britain, where the elderly King Lear decides to give up his power and divide his realm amongst his three daughters, Cordelia, Regan, and Goneril, intending to give the largest piece of his kingdom to the child who professes to love him the most, certain that his favorite daughter, Cordelia, will win the challenge. Goneril and Regan, corrupt and deceitful, lie to their father with sappy and excessive declarations of affection. Cordelia, however, refuses to engage in Lear’s game, and replies simply that she loves him as a daughter should.



KING LEAR: Now, our joy,

Although the last, not least; to whose young love

The vines of France and milk of Burgundy

Strive to be interess’d; what can you say to draw

A third more opulent than your sisters? Speak.

CORDELIA                Nothing, my lord.

KING LEAR               Nothing!

CORDELIA                Nothing.

KING LEAR               Nothing will come of nothing: speak again.

CORDELIA                Unhappy that I am, I cannot heave

My heart into my mouth: I love your majesty

According to my bond; nor more nor less.

KING LEAR               How, how, Cordelia! Mend your speech a little,

Lest it may mar your fortunes.

CORDELIA                Good my lord,

You have begot me, bred me, loved me: I

Return those duties back as are right fit,

Obey you, love you, and most honour you.


KING LEAR               But goes thy heart with this?

CORDELIA                Ay, good my lord.

KING LEAR               So young, and so untender?

CORDELIA                So young, my lord, and true.

Her lackluster retort, despite its sincerity, enrages Lear, and he disowns Cordelia completely.
Meanwhile, the King of France, present at court and overwhelmed by Cordelia’s honesty, asks for her hand in marriage, despite her loss of a sizable dowry. Cordelia accepts the King of France’s proposal, and reluctantly leaves Lear with her two cunning sisters. Now that Lear has turned over all his wealth and land to Regan and Goneril, their true natures surface. Lear goes to live with Goneril, but she reveals that she plans to treat him like the old man he is while he is under her roof. So Lear decides to stay instead with his other daughter, but soon realizes that Regan is conspiring with her sister against him.

News arrives that Cordelia has raised an army of French troops that have landed.

Tired from his ordeal, Lear sleeps through the battle between Cordelia and her sisters. When Lear awakes he is told that Cordelia has been defeated. Lear takes the news well, thinking that he will be jailed with his beloved Cordelia – away from his evil offspring. However, the orders have come, not for Cordelia’s imprisonment, but for her death.

Despite their victory, the evil natures of Goneril and Regan soon destroy them. Both in love with Edmund (who gave the order for Cordelia to be executed), Goneril poisons Regan. But when Goneril discovers that Edmund has been fatally wounded,  Goneril kills herself as well.

As Edmund takes his last breath he repents and the order to execute Cordelia is reversed. But the reversal comes too late and Cordelia is hanged. Lear appears, carrying the body of Cordelia in his arms.

imagesKING LEAR: “Howl, howl, howl, howl! O, you are men of stones:

Had I your tongues and eyes, I’ld use them so

That heaven’s vault should crack. She’s gone for ever!

Mad with grief, Lear bends over Cordelia’s body, looking for a sign of life. The strain overcomes Lear and he falls dead on top of his daughter.


Girls of Riyadh – Review

Girls of Riyadh

By Rajaa Alsanea

Penguin Books

 ImageDubbed as a novel that takes on an imperious society, ‘Girls of Riyadh’ by Saudi writer Rajaa Alsanea is certainly a trendsetter, even if not swell enough “to shake up an entrenched society”, as was initially projected.

The book is an attempt to expose to the world the shacked lives of young women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. In that sense it is bold. The novel was promptly banned in the Kingdom when the Arabic version was first published seven years ago by the Beirut publisher Dar Al Saqi.

‘Girls of Riyadh’ is a controversial novel, but to call it Saudi Arabian ‘Sex and the City’ would be misleading.

Rajaa wrote the book ‘Banat Al Riyadh’ in Arabic way back in 2005, and it became a sensation almost instantly in the Arab world.

The novelist narrates the story of four lovelorn girls from the velvet class society looking for and finding love. Along the way, the author also talks about issues such as absence of chivalrous suitors, casually revealing the freedom that exists within families and disconnecting the stereotype image about the country.

Young writer Rajaa grew up in Riyadh, and was educated in Chicago. Two years later, the novel was published in English, translated by her with Marilyn Booth. Within the region, however, everyone seems to know about the “hidden lives” of women in the upper crust of Saudi society, but shocked that it could be publicized as a novel.

The book opens quite promisingly. An anonymous girl writes the first e-mail in a series: “To all of you out there who are over the age of eighteen, and in some countries that’ll mean twenty-one, though among us Saudis it means over six for guys …”

The story is unfolded as “scandalous” emails send to subscribers to a Yahoo group as ‘Memoirs Disclosed’ from a rebellious Saudi girl who goes by the identity ‘seerehwenfadha7et’.

The girls in the novel, Gamrah, Michelle, Sadeem and Lamees, whose trysts with men starts off in Riyadh and make headway during their travels outside the country, when they shed their abayas (traditional garbs). The story details their emotional mutinies, big and small, but generally focuses on their disappointments with the men they love.

Yet, along the way, the story loses steam and the last few chapters of the fifty-chapter book (each chapter, an e-mail) become tedious.

The letters begin on February 13, 2004 to February 18, 2005, over a year. Each chapter carries a brief introduction (which is interesting at times and boring other times) before a significant incident from one of the girls’ life is shared. Since the girls are thick friends, their stories overlap. The introduction also carries some poem or holy verse, mostly hints to the tone of the chapter that follows.

The most striking difference in the life of Saudi women is the law that makes it compulsory for women, including non-Arabs to wear abaya in public. Another cultural prohibition is for unrelated men and women to move around together in public. These are tough laws for those new to the Kingdom; but the rest are universal problems women face in some degree anywhere in the world.

In her author’s note Rajaa writes:

“I did not think the Western world would actually be interested. It seemed to me, and to many other Saudis, that the Western world still perceives us either romantically, as the land of Arabian Nights and the land where bearded shaikhs sit in their tents surrounded by their beautiful harem women, or politically, as the land where women are dressed in black from head to toe and where every house has its own oil well in the backyard!”

She adds, “Being the proud Saudi I am, I felt it is my duty to reveal another side of Saudi life to the Western world. The task was not easy, however.”

She says she hopes through the book to make the outside world understand that Saudi Arabia is a very conservative and male-dominated Islamic society. But the women there dream and have determination. More importantly, they fall deeply in and out of love just like women elsewhere in the world.”

Overall, the story is interesting, till about the most part of the book.




 ‘The divorce document was not particularly gruesome-looking, but its contents were indeed pretty horrifying. When her brother handed it to her, Gamrah read the lines of script and collapsed onto the nearest chair, screaming, “Yummah! yummah mama, he divorced me! Yumma, Rashid divorced me. It’s all over, he divorced me!” Her mother took Gamrah into her arms, weeping and cursing the wrongdoer…’


‘Sadeem packed away her wound along with her clothes and carried it all from the Dust Capital of the World to the Fog Capital of the world. London was not new to her. In fact, spending the last month of summer there had become a familiar yearly ritual.’


Lean In, don’t be Blown Away

 Brilliant achievement by Sheryl Sandberg; to have pinned her book ‘Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead’ as No 1 bestseller for weeks since its mid-March launch,which is currently the Amazon No. 1, and tops New York Times bestseller in Non-fiction (Hardbound) category.
‘Lean In’ is an original take on the male dominated “corporate jungle”, offering practical tips to women.
Sheryl questions why a powerful man is regarded as a “great guy” when a powerful woman is judged “political”. This book takes forward her popular talking point: “Why we have too few women leaders?”
She states that the real obstacles women still face in their professional life are sexism and discrimination. She talks about the challenges she faced right from her Harvard Business School days and admits of being a target at every step of her career. “About to ruin Facebook forever,” was one of the reactions she got when she newly took up the top position.
The book is a career guide for women professionals, but calling it a feminist manifesto would be a blinkered view.
She says that while men still run the world, women internalize negative messages throughout their lives, sabotaging themselves.
Lean InThe author asks women to be fearless during salary negotiations, and points out that men almost always and women almost never negotiate an offer. However, she advises women to seek help without foisting themselves on mentors.
While admitting she did not like to be seen or portrayed as “bossy”, she wonders why the term is only used about little girls, not boys. The author admits that she still finds herself spoken over and discounted at meetings, while male colleagues are not.
Sheryl admits that her position had often given her the confidence to speak out. And that discounts much of the optimism the book projects. Get inspired, but don’t get carried away, could be a reasonable advice to readers.
Some interesting advice from Sheryl:
“So, when looking for a life partner, my advice to women is date all of them: the bad boys, the cool boys, the commitment phobic boys, the crazy boys. But do not marry them. The things that make the bad boys sexy do not make them good husbands.”
“Anyone who is lucky enough to have options should keep them open for as long as possible. Don’t enter the workforce already looking for the exit.”
“Don’t go for the better job, go for the faster-growing company”
The best advice in the book is perhaps: Ask yourself what you would do if you weren’t afraid? Then go ahead and do it.
(Reviewed for ‘The Financial World’)

Seriously funny – Wife 22

Wife 22 by Melanie GideonImage

The title gives the impression that it’s going to be an intense and emotionally taxing story of a woman who shares a husband with 21 others. But, you are pleasantly surprised with a humorous story that scores on the universal issue of midlife crisis in married couples, mainly women, with rib-tickling ease.

Despite her husband William Buckle, two teenaged children and straight-talking best friend (lesbian) Nedra, Alice feels lost in her theatrical self talk most of the time. Her chief worry, one of them next only to her children’s growing independence, is the fact that the couple had run out of things to say to each other.

Alice ends up with the malady of the century: Unburdening to a complete stranger online. Freed by the anonymity of an online survey ‘Marriage in the 21st Century’, where she is Wife 22, Alice recalls all the reasons she fell in love with her husband 20 years ago. In the course of baring all, she also comes to face her reality.

She starts revealing her innermost feelings with ridiculous ease to a complete stranger, Researcher 101 and continues to remain enamored, in spite of two of her best friends’ efforts to dissuade her, one even threatening to abandon her for good.

The story unfolds a witty narrative, and deals with parenting and layoffs, and everything in between.

Before the study, the life of the protagonist “was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor’s appointments, family dinners, budgets, and trying to discern the fastest-moving line at the grocery store. Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions,” according to the author.

Acidic Humour and hilarious rendition of serious situations make it a joyful reading experience. All the fears and paranoia of a mother of adolescent children are so realistically and humorously portrayed, nothing profound though.

Particularly interesting were dialogues such as:

“I like your sagging eyelid.   It makes you look like a dog,” where the 12-year old son makes an innocent attempt to ease his mother’s worry about her signs of ageing.

Alice is also worried about Zoe’s (her daughter) uneasy relationship with her boyfriend, who also happens to be Nedra’s son.

Among the many worries she has, Alice also conveniently suspects her son Peter (who constantly changes his name to escape peer ridicule) is a gay, so as to avoid accepting the prospect of losing his undivided attention to a girlfriend. And when she finds he indeed has a girlfriend, she would rather believe she is only his “beard”, not the real one.

An amusing episode is the Bikini-line grooming, when Alice braves herself to get a Brazilian waxing done, sponsored by her friend. One cannot help chuckle while reading:

She lifts the paper thong and tsks. “Someone hasn’t been keeping up with their waxing.”

“It’s been a while,” I say.

“How long?”

“Forty-four years.”

“Wow, a waxing virgin.”

The best line however is the one describing Alice’s mind as she walks back from a solo swim during a family camping feeling: “good exhausted, the kind that comes from submersing yourself in a glacial river on a July afternoon. I walk slowly, not wanting to break the spell. Occasionally I have this sort of out-of-body experience where I feel all my previous incarnations simultaneously: the ten-year-olds, the twenty-year-old, thirty-year-old, and the forty-something-year-old, they’re all breathing and looking out of my eyes simultaneously.”

Briefly, Wife 22 is a funny story that proves how an online fling can be aphrodisiac.

With this novel Melanie Gideon has taken another step forward but sticking to her favorite topic: The exigencies of domesticity explored in her first book, a nonfiction titled ‘The Slippery Year’.

The only serious irritant: The social networking jargons and postings, which at times run into a few pages at a stretch; whether Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or any other. Online postings are so viral that at times they become tiresome and the irrelevance annoying like spam messages, serving only to hinder the flow.

Overall, a good pick for light reading, as in while travelling or for mothers to fall asleep with on the sofa, while waiting for youngsters to get back home safely after a meet up with friends on a weekend.

Reviewed for ‘The Financial World’