Sidharth Vardhan

The Driver’s Seat – a SPARKling thriller

A review by Sidharth Vardhan  of ‘The Driver’s seat’ (1970) by Muriel Spark ) A kind of novella that spends more time in your mind than on the page. Spark does it brilliantly by working under-the-hood. It is no spoiler that it is all about Lise executing her plan to kill herself. And so it is “it’s a whydunnit in q-sharp major and it has a message: never talk to the sort of girls that you wouldn’t leave lying about in your drawing-room for the servants to pick up.” – the lines Lise used to describe the last book she read. But the why never gets answered clearly. By the end, we get clear clues that she must have suffered some psychological problems. And mental illness can describe her problems and one can easily dismiss it at that, but from Shakespeare to Plath to Gogol to Grass to Han Kang, writers have long held habit of putting methods in madness. I will forward two theories, not mutually exclusive. Suicides, especially those who have been planning to kill themselves for a long time, tend to be dramatic (think ’13 reasons why’), knowing you are going to die soon, must mean that

Cramps, Sarees and High heels

(A short fiction by Sidharth Vardhan March 3, 2018) He had to ask her out the very day she was having her ‘those days’ –  that is what she called it in her mind, the technical words and other euphemisms were too alien or repulsive for her to even use in her own mind. She took the wrapper of sanitary napkin she had just put on and buried it deep with the dustbin covering it over with a polyethene – a habit her mother had taught her, or “Ravi (her younger brother) will be asking questions.” So these are what they call ‘old wives tales’ she had thought wondering at the secrecy of it all – she had often wondered what they mean by ‘old wives tales’ – how come they are only about wives or women? Why not men? She knew, of course, of other more-fun tales – when in their women-only meetings they will act mischievously, flirting with each other, spanking each other, talking about men as if they are some sort of consumable dishes etc. Even her mother who, as soon as a man entered the room, was the picture of a lady.

Fever Dreams

Fever Dreams by Samanta Schweblin First Published in 2014 Long listed for International Man Booker in 2017 Review by Sidharth Vardhan The harmful effects of pesticides – a theme that might not be obvious to an urban reader of the book (the characters themselves seemed to not know about them) is the unnamed curse of the town. However, as with the treatment of psychopath theme in ‘Room’, the much louder theme just serves as a background for theme of how strong a mother’s love is. You know how homo-sapiens, especially females, keep on sentimentalizing over their parental investment and all that.

Being Watched – A Play

Time ~ 5 minutes Characters: A girl – in later teens. 3 to 5 boys – late teens too, they are sitting on stools throughout the play.   Play:   Part 1 The lights are off as curtain opens.  A light follows a girl as she enters from left, moves from left to right – she is singing to herself (a locally popular song), there is a bit of dance in her movements, and she is smiling, laughing to herself. As she moves a little ahead, lights turn on a little ahead on her path to reveal some boys sitting on stools on one side. She becomes self-conscious, stops for a moment to check her clothes – she stops singing and laughing and crosses in front of them with a serious look on her face, her gaze down, somewhat scared as the eyes of boys follow her movements as far as they can. Once she passes them, the lights on the spot where boys are sitting will go off, and she again loses herself in mirth –singing, same easy steps and laughing. Reaching the right end of the stage she exits, the light goes off. A few moments pass.   Part 2

A Nightmare

(A Short Fiction) Part I 1. Twelve years later, V___ wakes up tormented by the nightmare. An unsatisfied, undesired feeling that will not go away – all these years and, for no reason that he can think; he has tried hard to remember if he had talked about, thought or alluded to her yesterday; anything which might have caused the dream but, no, nothing whatever comes to mind, then why should she be intruding into his dream again and giving him restless mornings? 2. He still remembers how he had been rude to her initially; perhaps what he felt was the result of guilt from same. Yes, that will make sense. The left-over of the feelings are the waste that is most harmful to the environment of the psyche. But what could he have done? Just last year he had changed school as he had come to stay at his grandparents’ home after his mother’s death following a long  period of illness (his father had died a few years back). He was a highly reserved skinny new admission to the school with a tragic background and so he got attention for all the wrong reasons. There must be a look of sorrow

A Loss

(A short story by Sidharth Vardhan June 8, 2016)   Four-year-old Arun is playing with his toys – making the bull and the horse in hands wrestle, the horse is winning, Arun wants the horse to win, he likes the horse, he knows it will win ….. When he hears the voices of his parents arguing. He turns around to see them entering the room but they are not themselves.

Atonement

(review of Atonement, a novel by Ian McEwan – 5*/5*) “It was common enough, to see so much death and want a child.” We each live in our own world – and worlds of children are so far simpler than those of grown-ups; the friction between these worlds allows chances for misunderstandings. McEwan, who seems to have a thing for misunderstandings, banks on them for the beautiful story. The number of coincidences in the first part could have looked objectionable in hands of some other author. Robbie suddenly finds his life thrown off the track and is made to bear punishment for a crime he never did – that must be how most of Europe have felt during second world war. A child’s innocent mistake destroys future of a young man. But scratch the surface there – was she as innocent as she claimed? Or was there malice, at least at subconscious level? She repents as she realizes her mistake, but the wrong done can never be corrected fully. It is so far easier to wrong than to correct: “A person is, among all else, a material thing, easily torn and not easily mended.” The guilt will never die –

The tragedy of being too good

(Review of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s novel ‘The Idiot’, 5*/5*) An ideal idiot Most of my favorite characters are either pure evil or complex anti-hero type; the stereotype Mr. Goody-two-shoes has never appealed to me; however Prince Muishkin, the idiot in the novel, is now going to be an exception. He has suffered from idiocy due to epilepsy (FD too suffered from epilepsy attacks) all his childhood and early youth – and thus gets the technical title of ‘Idiot’. Perhaps it was due to this idiocy that he has not adopted the so-called common sense – the ‘normal’ way of looking at the world which is formed by slow corruption of our sense of compassion on pretext of what is called self-defense in a cruel world. P. is full of compassion – which is very clear from stories he tells (the stories you tell, tell a lot about yourself.) His goodness (unlike Evegeine’s calculated goodness and Ptitson who allows himself only small evils) makes him indifferent to harm being done to himself if it means happiness of someone else. If you try to insult or hurt him; he would feel sorry for circumstances that made you do so; and let you cheat him.

A thing of beauty

(review of The Swann’s, a novel by Marcel Proust) As a habitual reader, you probably have had at least one friend who will tell you that he/she sees no point in reading all those books. You might have struggled trying to explain to this friend the delights of reading – may be you had lectured him/her on how a particular book is incredible, enlightened him/ her about all the things that make it marvelous – only to discover that you can’t get the person excited. At the time we may judge such person for lack of imagination, but with time we realize that our explanations were not perfect. That is problem with beauty – no matter how analytical and detailed we get, something remains behind – we can’t describe what makes it beautiful to us; can’t capture it into words. And so, how will one describe the beauty of Proust’s prose, especially when there is not much of the story? One might say that his descriptions – of flowers, places roads, clothes, music, paintings, emotions, trees, servants etc. are beautiful; he captures emotions or experiences – even momentary, fleeing ones – like none other; that his long sentences punctuated with

Dostoyevsky’s Christmas Carol

(Review of ‘Dream of a Ridiculous Man’ , a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky – 5*/5*) “Only perhaps in our children, in their earliest years, one might find, some remote faint reflection of this beauty.” Do you remember losing that treasured innocence that we were born with? that old childish ‘innocence’ (there might be a better word to describe it, but my vocabulary is poor) – the nausea of which we live with for rest of our lives? We know, or at least we think we know, that it can’t be helped, and we would consider someone a weakling, a divine fool or ridiculous if he or she retained that innocence beyond a certain age. We even lough at our own foolishness of old days: “They hardly remembered what they had lost, in fact refused to believe that they had ever been happy and innocent. They even laughed at the possibility of this happiness in the past, and called it a dream.” Yet, we look at children, ever cheerful, and feel sorry for the loss they are bound to suffer one time or another in their lives – they, too, will eat that fruit from ‘tree of knowledge of good and

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