9 days


I said I was going to talk about Livia.

But since then, I read a bit more of Dynasty, and Agrippina proves all I wanted to say, and does it with some style. Tom Holland is too much of a gentleman to believe the rumors about pious Livia, and exonerates her of all the alleged crimes against her stepdaughter and her family. I, on the other hand, can not believe that an intelligent and proud woman will not do all that is in her power to make her children succeed. There is no way that she did not ruin the willful daughter of her husband. To me, the assumption of her passivity seems disrespectful. A woman who had a long and successful career as the most important woman in Rome did not achieve this by making homespun clothes for her husband.

Agrippina also tried the same strategy, but failed. She made at least two mistakes, which Livia had avoided. One, she did not have the patience to let her husband consolidate his rule. If she had waited, she could have trained her son in the ways of power. Nero would have been older when his mother’s machinations brought him into power, and who knows, he might have been more mature. Which was the second mistake she made. She did not train her son properly. In a society as prone to obedience to parents as Rome, she could not make her son follow her.

So that is about Livia and Agrippina. I just realized that Rome hasn’t burned yet, so I haven’t finished this book.


4 days


Now reading, Tom Holland’s Dynasty.

About the House of Caesar. I have only read the first 20% or so, till the death of Augustus (the way the book is written, I feel like putting a spoiler warning here.) It is, as the Guardian reviewer said, a soap opera version of history. A history for our age.

He did not mean this as a compliment, but it is one, nonetheless. Once again, after the bitchy reviews of Antifragile*, and the clueless reviews of Career of Evil, we have a book whose reviews do not reflect on the book at all. Bitchy reviews are awesome, we all love them, but they need to make sense! On Goodreads, there are so many bitchy reviews, like this one of Game of Thrones, and they are popular because they make sense. This review engages with the story, and points out its flaws by comparing it to greater stories. It is simply easier to write good bitchy reviews of mediocre but popular books.

Unlike truly great books, which brings us back to the first 20% of Dynasty. Holland sticks to the business of telling the story, leaving the interpretation to the reader. I will call that respecting the reader, and respecting history, which can be tricky to interpret. But the reviewer calls that a soap opera, and goes on to interpret history, rather than the book itself- and that can be a dangerous ground.

I will not review the reviews anymore, because they are tedious to read. Except the Game of Thrones one, which I am going toread now.

So my thoughts on Livia must await another day.

*Linking to my own thoughts on that book, which were entirely different from that of the critics, if vaguely and inexpertly written..


4 days


I watched Tamasha.

It is a story about a guy who fancies himself as a storyteller and manages to get through the film without telling a single story. A lapse the director explains away as “all stories are the same”. How are all stories the same? How is, specific to the movie, the story of Sita and Helen of Troy the same? One of them was deviously and forcefully abducted, the other willingly ran away with her lover. They can only be the same in the world of this movie, where women and their thoughts and desires do not matter.

Still, Imtiaz Ali has improved- there is no fridging in this movie, unlike Rockstar. Here, the “heroine” is merely a vehicle for the “hero’s” epiphany. She also manages a career, though has almost no life or thoughts of her own. Deepika, like Ingrid Bergman in Casablanca, only faces the camera in profile, from her “good” side, but this isn’t as offputting as in Casablanca because it is anyways a crap movie, and Tara a featureless character.*

Also, the message. Can it be any stupider. All children love listening to stories, this doesn’t make them creative or talented storytellers as adults. Ved is particularly bad, of course, the Robot and Clown** thing is dumb and irritating.

Finally the setting. Both Corsica and Delhi float in a no-man’s land. The only thing Imtiaz Ali admits about Corsica is that Asterix once visited there. Asterix, mind you, a series steeped in the history of Europe.  This is a result of the fear Bollywood has that the rootless modern Indian middle class will not want to watch its crappy movies if they get even a whiff of background, or roots. Or maybe Imtiaz Ali finds his rural Bihar roots unmarketable and shameful, and denies both himself and his characters roots in the process. This avoidance of backgrounds means that the characters live in generic upper middle class homes and cannot talk to each other. Talking will tell us things about them, so they must communicate via background music.

Again, she finds him by reading Catch-22 in a fictional Delhi library. Apart from the fact that Catch-22 disproves Imtiaz Ali’s hope that all stories are the same, it has no relevance to the story. Or maybe it is used for that reason, we learn nothing about Ved and Tara by the books they name drop  A better reference could have been to Gone Girl, the book which can very easily describe the future of Ved and Tara.

  • If you have never noticed this in Casablanca, watch the movie again. Ingrid Bergman is much plainer on the other side of her face and knows it. Deepika, whose face is symmetrical, does it to show off her dimple.
  • **Unless you show clowns as scary, you do not get creativity points nowadays, Mr Imtiaz Ali.

12 days


There you go. Real life intervened and I was too busy to write anything. In the meantime, a couple of Pakistanis killed some Americans. Both Pakistani terrorists and gun violence in the USA are nothing remarkable, but the combination seems to have shocked the world.

Also Chennai floods. When I first heard of them a few weeks ago I thought they would be like Mumbai floods, inconvenient, happen every year, and life goes on. But no. These were a full blown disaster. Which makes this the second time a city I have friends in has become a disaster zone. After Kathmandu. Scary thought.

Finally, life. I told my mom that time tells the difference between the fragile and the Antifragile. She was sceptical. They- the fragile- are all doing so well, she said, for these many years. Why bother? Why put in the hard work it takes to bring up a child who can survive success and failure, who is capable of making her own decisions and honouring them, who can treat work like a vocation, who can read write, and analyse the world? But then, real life, not in its disasters but in its day-to-day ordinariness forced us to realize that this effort is worth it. This effort is probably the only bit of child-rearing that matters, apart from the love and security you shower on them.

My new resolution is to read philosophy. The ancient Greeks. However, I tried reading The Republic on Kindle and it was not easy. Let’s see. Resolutions are meant to be broken. I resolved to read The Tale of Two Cities too. I was blown away by Dickens’ prose, by how all the lines of the first chapter followed the same meter established by the opening lines. But somehow I could not bother to read the second one.