From my bookshelf – November’18. The story of a “supposed” spy.

From my bookshelf – November’18. The story of a “supposed” spy.


Mata Hari, by Paulo Coelho, is the story of a woman way ahead of her times. She was convicted for spying during the 1st World War, but, from the story she wrote about herself when in custody, she comes across as someone who was falsely labelled a SPY for the sole reason that she did not conform to the rules of the society she lived in.

Frankly, I did not know her story would grab me by my shoulders and take me away to a world back in the 1800s and leave me feeling awestruck!

In her own words, she was a woman born in the wrong times and wished the world to remember her as a woman who lived with courage and paid the price for doing so.

Raped by her school principal when she was sixteen, abused by her husband whom she married to leave her world and move to Indonesia to live a better life, she learnt how sex and love were not related to each other, at all. Had it not been for a dance performance she saw one evening, her life would have continued to be the nightmare that it was ever since she married.

It was in France, where she moved after separating from her husband, that she found an audience for her exotic dances which were bold and seductive. She claimed it was her own dance style that she had actually witnessed on one of her tours around Indonesia.

Wanting to earn money to live a good life as her husband had stopped sending her any, she became a courtesan and then the exotic dancer who left the audience awestruck. Her dances were crude versions of the original Java dances. She wore a flesh coloured body stocking which gave an impression that she danced in the nude. Her provocative style of dancing brought her much acclaim wherever she performed.

During World War 1, she met and fell in love with a Russian pilot. When he was wounded in a fight with the Germans, she wished to meet him in the hospital where he was staying. But, the French agents made a deal, that she would meet her lover only if she spied on Germany.

They also later offered her an impressive amount of money if she continued spying–an amount that she felt would help her lead a lavish lifestyle that she had grown used to. Sadly, she did not receive any money, but was arrested while travelling from Spain.

She was executed by a firing squad for playing the role of a spy, but, according to her, it was because she lived her life on her own terms, refused to bow down before the norms of her society, that she met with such an end.

I really liked reading the book and finished it in two days. A page-turner, it gave me a glimpse of the times from all those years ago– not very different from what we see today–with rules laid down by men to be followed by women who are expected to stay “within limits” and get labelled “immoral” if they dare to live life on their own terms!

Have you read ‘The Spy’? If you have, how did you like it?

Do share with me what you felt about the story of Mata Hari–the woman…



Was she really a spy?

The Dark Holds No Terrors.

The Dark Holds No Terrors.

Book: The Dark Holds No Terrors

Author: Shashi Deshpande

Genre: Fiction

Format: Paperback


The Story:

Sarita, a doctor by profession, holds on to her troubled past.  Her mother’s bitterness towards her for being unable  to save her younger brother from drowning follows her all her life. Later, as a grown woman, it continues in the form of  disownment  for choosing to marry the love of her life – a man belonging to the lower caste.

Years later, Sarita returns home – the home she had left as a young woman – to her father, to escape from her troubled marriage, wondering if it was her dead mother’s curse that her life turned out the way it did.


My review:

The story is about Sarita, who, as a little girl, doesn’t find favour with her mother – a resentment she vents out on her younger brother, their mother’s pet. With no friends to confide her turmoil in, the pent up feelings simmer within her for years together. To get away from her claustrophobic life at home, she decides to take up medicine at a Bombay college. Her father, much to her mother’s chagrin,  supports her in her decision and gives her the much-needed respite.

Shashi Deshpande has used the stream of consciousness to narrate the story of Sarita.  Peppered with memories, mostly unpleasant, from her childhood, her youth and  her married life, the story takes you along a journey that at once feels heartrending and perplexing.

How can a mother be so cruel towards her daughter? Why doesn’t the father find the courage to speak up against the injustice meted out to his daughter? are some of the thoughts that cross your  mind as you go further into the story. There are  moments when you wonder at the human nature – cowering in fear and at the same time cold and calculating, wicked and egotistic!

Escaping to a city to follow her dreams, falling in love with a man who, she thinks, will rescue her from her dark past,  and then realising that life’s miseries haven’t ended just yet, for the darkness has followed her in her married life, too. For how much respect and money can a poet earn as compared to his doctor wife? Sarita’s sorrow tugs at your heart strings.

Shashi Deshpande has done a fabulous job in her very first novel written in 1980. The language and the words chosen to portray the turmoil within the human mind and within the four walls of a simple, middle-class family in a small town are perfect. The atmosphere at Sarita’s home – her parents’ as well as her marital home – is almost tangible.

I liked the book, and I am sure you will like it, too. We may not have experienced the sorrow, the injustice Sarita did, but there are moments when one can relate to her story. The importance given to the son over the daughter, ego hassles that arise within a marriage, a domineering parent whose words wound the heart so, the scars stay fresh for years.  All of this and much more will touch you to the core, leaving you breathless.


The English Teacher – Book Review.

The English Teacher – Book Review.


Book: The English Teacher

Author: R. K. Narayan

Genre: Fiction

Format: Paperback


R.K. Narayan, famous for giving us the idyllic, fictional town of Malgudi in southern India, made his way into our hearts and our homes years ago with his simple and heart-warming story-telling.   How can we forget Swami and his friends and their stories that made for an important part of our growing up years? I remember staying glued to the tele when Swami came for a visit and took us along with him on his adventures in Malgudi; its signature tune  “ta na na na nana naaa…” comes to mind as I type this post!

The English Teacher is almost an autobiographical novel. It’s about Krishna, the English teacher, who teaches at the Albert Mission College, in Malgudi.  He lives at the hostel, while his wife and daughter live with his parents-in-law. Their move to a rented house permits the young couple to enjoy marital bliss.  But, like all good things come to an end, their story, too, takes an unexpected turn.

Krishna’s eagerness to live an uncomplicated life, and his search for inner peace and  self-development is what the story is all about.


My review: 

I bought this book months ago, but couldn’t read beyond a few pages then. The setting of the Albert Mission College, and Krishna’s mundane life as an English teacher staying at the  hostel failed to grab my attention. However, last week, I picked up the book again and began reading from the very beginning. It was then that I discovered its sheer  beauty hidden in the simple, everyday life of people far removed from the fast, tech-savvy world we reside in. Suffice it to say, it felt like petrichor after months of scorching summer!

The idyllic setting of Malgudi, the young couple learning to live with each other and bring up their little one, it all felt so peaceful. How I wished I could move there, bag and baggage.

The language – so fluid, unostentatious –  brings alive  the world of Krishna. His disagreement with the education system that forces the students to learn a language meant to be savoured, and literary works  meant to be celebrated, will resonate with many a teacher of today.

The ease with which R. K. Narayan weaves together sorrow and joy makes one wonder if it is really so easy – expressing the varied human emotions in words!

The atmosphere of the place grows on you, as do the characters you wish you could meet in real life.

R. K. Narayan transports you back to that time  when innocence and simplicity really existed. The book was written in around 1945, so you can imagine the life back then. No, actually, we really can not! Krishna, his wife and daughter, their lives, their world, their journey…you will wish you could walk along with them and live those moments with them.

How I wish I could give you a sneak peek into the plot, but I will leave you guessing.

Do read this book. I am sure it will make you yearn for an uncluttered life in an idyllic, small town by the river side! Oh, and without a wifi connection, as well!