Category Archives: autobiography

Book Review: Le Livre Blanc by Jean Cocteau

Le Livre Blanc by Jean Cocteau Title: Le Livre Blanc (The White Book)
Author: Jean Cocteau
Publisher: Peter Owen Modern Classics
ISBN: 0-7206-1081-8
Genre: Literary Fiction, Semi-Autobiographical
Pages: 76
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

I do not see any reason for anyone to tolerate someone else. Well, that is just the way I look at things and believe should be. On the other hand, there are reasons why people think or may be confuse the two terms – acceptance and tolerance, and more so when it comes to sexual orientation. I honestly believe that somewhere down the line we make too much of it. It isn’t like it is a novelty you know, and yet it is perceived as one. How does gender matter when two people love or adore each other? How does it even make a difference when two people want to indulge in sex and have a good time? I have never understood it and don’t intend to either. For me it is clear: My happiness comes first and it should.

With such thoughts I am talking about a book I read a long time ago and now reread it, dealing with sexual orientation and how it impacts people. “Le Livre Blanc” or “The White Book” by Jean Cocteau was first published in 1928 and it so happened that Cocteau decreed that it be published anonymously. It was however later, somewhere in 1953 that the author’s identity came to fore. Why did Cocteau want this work published anonymously? Because it dealt with his coming to terms with his so called homosexual identity. The book is semi-autobiographical in nature and he did not want to be tormented by people when they came to know that he was gay. The book is about his affairs, his school, his desires, his wanting to fight those desires and finally coming to terms with them.

“Le Livre Blanc” is about coming to terms with who you are and what are its implications. The book is a quick read. It does not mull so much about the topic as I would have liked it to, but that is alright. I guess that was the author’s prerogative. The drawings are beautiful. They almost make you want to fall in love. “Le Livre Blanc” is a raw mediation on desire and about finding one’s identity. It is melancholic and about forbidden love. A book that sure should be read by all. A must read about a topic that is different and needs much thought and contemplation.

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Book Review: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Norrmal? by Jeanette Winterson

Title: Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
Author: Jeanette Winterson
Publisher: Jonathan Cape, Random House UK
ISBN: 978-0-224-09345-3
Genre: Autobiography, Non-Fiction
Pages: 230
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

We think we know life and what it has in store for us. We like to predict. We feel safe in its outcome. We pattern it for ourselves and intend to stick to the pattern. And then there are some for who life doesn’t quite work out that way and they then chronicle stories we read and want more. Jeanette Winterson is one such writer, who I admire a lot and she has grown to be my favourite writer ever since I can remember. I vividly recall the first time I read, “Written on the Body” and re-read it several times, because I wanted to feel alive and it helped me feel that way. It is one of those books I will never ever forget. It had an impact and continues to.

“Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?” was a question posed by Jeanette Winterson’s adoptive mother, when at sixteen Jeanette decided to leave home and study, and more so to be with her girlfriend, that her adoptive mother disapproved of. The title of her autobiography is the same.

I started reading this book two days ago and I have been taken on a rollercoaster ride with it. From Jeanette’s adoptive process to the conditions in which she was brought up – yearning for love, deprived of books (and reading them on the sly), left outside on the porch for doing or saying something inappropriate and not been given a chance to live to the freedom she snatched with both hands on leaving home, this book makes you wonder. A lot actually. About what home means and the sense of longing that prevails throughout life if you haven’t felt at home. The book towards the last few chapters also talks about Jeanette’s search of her real parents and the emotional ride through it all.

The fact that Mrs. Winterson (the foster mother), a woman of alarming eccentricity and neglectful cruelty believes that Jeanette was a child to whose crib Mrs. Winterson was led by the Devil and not God is enough to give the reader an inkling of the author’s growing years. Mrs. Winterson dreamed of the Apocalypse and the Second Coming, which Jeanette used as material for her first book, “Oranges are not the Only Fruit” beautifully. And then there were small joys – of the beach holiday she took with her parents, the kindness of the local librarian and of her English teacher Mrs. Ratlow, who took her in when she was left out, make you think about life and its adversities and the power of words that can make everything alright.

I could connect to this book on so many levels – from the time Ms. Winterson talks about books to love (about wanting to be love and not knowing how to love) to the confusion in her head to the clarity, I was enthralled by this book. It made me laugh. It made me cry. I will definitely go back to it again. Sink in its words. That’s the only way to love a book. Read it again. Read it the first time.

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Book Review: The Man Who Would Be Queen: Autobiographical Fictions by Hoshang Merchant

Title: The Man Who Would Be Queen: Autobiographical Fictions
Author: Hoshang Merchant
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 9780143064862
Genre: Non-Fiction
Pages: 200
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The Man Who Would Be Queen by Hoshang Merchant struck a chord. I mean it had to, after all I am as gay as him and what was chronicled in this book, made me also look back on my life till now. The book is a collection of lyrical essays on the self that flaunts itself as being autobiographical in nature. The good thing is that the book doesn’t speak only about being gay. It also covers the poetic ground, after all Mr. Merchant is a poet first and that is quite evident in the pieces collected here.

Hoshang Merchant is not trying to rev things up or trying to create a storm in a teacup. These essays are just his way of acknowledging the life he has led and the years that are about to be lived. He speaks of topics that are varied – the moon, The Taj Mahal, infidelity, love, passion, broken hearts, his homosexual room-mate, and his poetry. He speaks of his friendships with women whose husbands were homo-phobic and chauvinistic – I mean all gay men have gone that road – in some form or the other and this book just states it. Finally he also speaks of why he writes and what it means to him in, “Garden of Bliss” which according to me every young writer needs to read.

I did not have any questions while reading this book. It is crystal clear in its writing and the ethos is felt because it comes out to be an honest book and written from the heart. Hoshang merges prose with poetry beautifully and that is the highlight of the book.

The resilience needed in the face of tragedy and the need to go on living, no matter what, is what I have personally gathered from this book. Read the book without biases and it can make you think – a lot and also feel.

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Book Review: Flashback: My Life and Times in Bollywood and Beyond by Bob Christo

Title: Flashback: My Life and Times in Bollywood and Beyond
Author: Bob Christo
Publisher: Penguin India
ISBN: 978-0-143-41462-9
Genre: Memoirs, Non-Fiction
PP: 263 pages
Price: Rs. 399
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

I was a child smitten by Bollywood. I would love how the curtains rose and the projector made me see images I wanted to. The Hero, who no one could defeat, The Heroine, who everyone wanted to woo and The Villain, who no one ever wanted to be. Amidst the traditional Bollywood villains in those times, I grew up also watching and cherishing this one villain who was white and I wondered: Is he Indian? What is he doing in Indian films and how does he manage to speak such good Hindi? That but obviously was Bob Christo and as I was reading his autobiography, all my memories of his films came rushing by. From Coolie to Mard to Mr. India (who can ever forget the Jai Bajrang Bali scene) to close to 200 movies he acted in – I haven’t seen most of them, however Bob Christo is not a name people don’t remember.

And as Tom Alter mentions in the preface, no one could write a book on Bob Christo, but the man himself. Bob Christo’s life is nothing short of an adventure – from being a civil engineer in Australia to playing the baddie in Bollywood – one must wonder, how come? How did this man get to this stage in his life? He was also singing in rock concerts and modelled for African beer – while reading the book there were so many laugh-out-loud moments (shooting experiences and more specifically with stalwarths like Raj Kapoor and Mr. Bachchan) and so many moments when I felt this lump in my throat and didn’t realize why, till the emotion overcame me.

Flashback reads like a roller-coaster, you never know when the next turn will come and how high or low it will take you. It is about how the industry changed Bob Christo and his sensibilities to some extent – what he learnt and what he chose not to, and how being a part of the industry, he was also most of the time an outsider.  

I loved how Bob Christo wrote the book – from the anecdotes to how he felt to missed opportunities and the opportunities he did get. Flashback is a delight for all Bollywood lovers coming from a least expected source – a villain who I will always love and admire.