Tuesday March 31, 2020

Love, Romance, and fiction

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Photo: parade.com

By Vikas Datta

It is that time of the year again when love and its expression is on everyone’s minds – and makes for a range of spectacles ranging from the touching to grotesquely ludicrous from both those who celebrate Valentine’s Day and those who deride it. But this is a fairly recent social phenomenon, and any serious, fairly wide-ranging reader has already come across any aspect of love that can be conceived – and they don’t have to be aficionados of the romantic genre.

Let alone its role in real life, love, taken here in its most conventional sense of romance, is a fundamental force in literature – and can be seen in various guises and stages that would bewilder the most amorous of us. It often drives the plot (or subverts it), and accounts for quite a bit of motivations of characters and their choices, actions and decisions, even if they are not those directly involved, and can be driving a totally different genre.

Not only the most famous detective in fiction, Sherlock Holmes is also the most noted bachelor, always making light of love – one who “never spoke of the softer passions, save with a gibe and a sneer”.

But of the dozen stories in “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” (1892), eight have a motif or motivation of love right from the first (“A Scandal in Bohemia”) to the last (“The Adventure of the Copper Beeches“), especially “The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor”, in which Holmes figures out a mystery which is actually a complicated love story but also displays understanding, though being unsuccessful in placating the distressed party.

Holmes can also simulate love well enough when needed, once ending up engaged – to a housemaid – but with an ulterior motive. (“The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton“).

Love can even crop up unexpectedly, and help the protagonist achieve the outcome they were striving for. Was it apparent that a bachelor of the most regular habits and schedule, who embarks on a most singular adventure after accepting a bet at his club, would end up hitched at the end? This also enables him to find out that he has not lost his wager.

Phileas Fogg finds he had succeeded in traveling “Around the World in 80 Days” (Jules Verne, 1873), when he decides to marry Aouda, an Indian princess he had saved from being ritually immolated with her dead husband during his eventful journey, and tries to fix an appointment with a clergyman for the wedding.

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” says a character in Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and a break-up between love partners – and the eventual (but not always) reconciliation, is a common component of love stories, and is frequently melodramatic. What if it comes in a way that leaves you in splits?

Say, the hero has left the supposed villain sweltering in a Turkish bath to rescue the heroine he suspects is confined against her will but she doesn’t appear grateful, or the parties make up in a cupboard in which they have been sent as a punishment by their former nurse, who still believes (and treats them) they are children.

For this, we must dip into the hilarious corpus of P.G. Wodehouse. These stories – “A Slice of Life” and “Portrait of a Disciplinarian” respectively – figure in “Meet Mr Mulliner” (1927), where you can also find what atypical actions love can lead you to do in “The Romance of a Bulb-Squeezer”.

And then who is the most successful love champion you could find in fiction? Going by the sheer number of carnal exploits, it is that arch-scoundrel, a cad and lecher, Sir Harry Paget Flashman, a bit player from “Tom Brown’s Schooldays” who gets his own series courtesy George Macdonald Fraser.

At one stage, Flashman, who gets embroiled in almost all major events of the 19th century, counts up his sexual conquests, “not counting return engagements”, and reaches a total of 478 – and at the moment is a dungeon in Gwalior during the 1857 Indian revolt! Since he is is just at a little over a third of his long and eventful life, it must have been considerably augmented, and would include two Indian maharanis, queens of Ethiopia and Madagascar and an imperial concubine who would later become the empress of China. The fictional ones range from assorted noblewomen, African-American slaves, and a daughter of Apache chief Mangas Colorado.

You could find much more extraordinary happening – to paraphrase Shakespeare, there is more in books and stories that can be dreamt in your philosophy. So celebrate Valentine’s Day as you like, but include reading a book. (IANS)

See these excellent collection of Romantic fictions from Amazon

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Penning a Book Doesn’t Make an Author Immortal: Ruskin Bond

"From a love of reading, comes writing," says Ruskin Bond

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Ruskin Bond
Much-loved and widely-read author Ruskin Bond believes that it's from a love of reading that a writer comes to a love of writing. Wikimedia Commons

BY SIDDHI JAIN

Much-loved and widely-read author Ruskin Bond believes that it’s from a love of reading that a writer comes to a love of writing, and penning a book does not always translate to the author becoming immortal.

“There’s only one way to become a writer, that’s to be a reader. If you look at the lives of all writers who are successful, you’d find that when they were boys or girls, they were readers and bookworms. It’s from a love of reading that you come to a love of writing.

“Writers do get forgotten. Sometimes we think writing a book gives us some sort of immortality, I assure you it doesn’t. Ninety-nine percent of writers over the ages have been forgotten, you don’t know that some of them have been very good?. Writing is something you do anyway, regardless of whether it is going to make you rich or famous around the world or in your country,” Bond, 85, said at Arth, a cultural fest, in the national capital.

Ruskin Bond
Ruskin Bond has previously pointed to a dwindling reader base, but feels that there is enough audience for good writers to help them thrive. Wikimedia Commons

Landour-based Bond, an Indian author of British descent and a Padma Bhushan awardee, published his first novel “The Room on the Roof”, the semi-autobiographical story of the orphaned Anglo-Indian boy named Rusty, at the age of 17, which won the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize (1957).

I did begin writing very early, and writing somehow wasn’t very fashionable back in the 1950s when I finished school. Today I keep meeting youngsters and even oldsters who want to write and are writing books. It seems to be the in-thing.

“?But when I finished school, writing wasn’t popular as a profession. But I was determined to be a writer, and when I came home, and my mother asked, Ruskin what are you going to do with yourself now, I said Mum, I’m going to be a writer, she said, Don’t be silly, go and join the army,” shared Bond.

How far do awards go in contributing to the work of an author?

Ruskin Bond
“A lot of parents complain that children spend more time on electronic media and don’t read enough, but you see, reading has always been a minority pastime,” says Ruskin Bond. Wikimedia Commons

“I don’t think in the long run, awards have made much difference. If you are a good writer, and you have a good readership, then prizes and awards along the way are nice to have on your mantelpiece, but they are not going to make a great difference to your work.?”?

With more than seven decades into writing, does the great author have a writing ritual?

“I think most writers try to write something everyday, you need a certain discipline to get through the assignment you have been given, or to complete a novel. I try to write a page or two every morning, but it’s not compulsory.”

Bond has previously pointed to a dwindling reader base, but feels that there is enough audience for good writers to help them thrive.

Also Read- I Give a Lot of Importance to Fitness: Katrina Kaif

“A lot of parents complain that children spend more time on electronic media and don’t read enough, but you see, reading has always been a minority pastime. Even when I was a boy, in a class of 30-35 boys, there were just 2 or 3 of us who were fond of reading.

“At that time, education in English in India was confined to a few schools, and maybe to the upper classes, but today it has spread significantly throughout the country.” (IANS)