Three Men in a Boat [Book Review]

Hanging out with friends could be the most pleasant and interesting times one can have. Of late, on one such gathering I met four of my friends at my place for a wedding. By the end of the long day, after a good meal, we sat up for coffee to ease down the tiredness, at a lesser known but cool & silent cafe in the the neighborhood of  our Alma mater. While any of us hardly knew anything about these  trendy coffee spin-offs in the A-la-Carte, being the host kind-of, it came upon me to order something for us. J who felt achy much wanted something really hot. I ordered hot cafe latte with cream or caramel sorts. And without much attention to the menu descriptions I ordered Affogato for J, who expected something just out of the cauldron. Well Affogato sounded fancy! When we were served our steaming big cuppa coffees, J’s face drooped, his puzzled eyes widening upon me, ‘cos technically Affogato,

“takes the form of a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso”

Just only a small shot of hot espresso!

Be it 19th or 21st century, friends are always the same. Jerome K.Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat” is a classic British comedy accounting the adventurous or rather hilarious trip over river Thames by three friends – Harris, George and the first person narrator (the author himself). To whatever tasks these guys are on, the author easily laces ’em up with a natural sarcasm fitting the characters and that would very well resonate among our friends too. More than the trip itself Jerome – like an old-man’s never-ending anecdotes, backs every episode with a prologue that would almost put you ROFL.

Three-Men-in-a-Boat

The plot beings with all one of the friends anxious of having many illness or at least having a feeling of surely having the symptoms, even some that might not have been discovered yet. Thats kinda like obsessive googling in the present day. The protagonist browses all the medical illustrations in a library only to come to a conclusion that he had all sorts of illness. So the trio come to the simplest resolution of taking up a leisurely trip by the river that would relieve them of their mundane routines and of course get them rid of their medical paranoia. From starting to prepare for the journey jotting down the requirements, packing, starting off on the boat, getting up the canvas for camping, visiting tombs, towing the boat and finally to returning by rail owing to the worsening weather everything is a hilarious riot. For that was not enough, all the back stories and anecdotes that precede the events are hysterically funny. Utterly sarcastic at every turn of the page. Even a thing like a kettle that is nothing to be excited about becomes amusing in the below words of Jerome,

We put up the kettle on to boil and pretended to take no notice of it… That is the only way to get a kettle boil up… If it sees you are waiting for it and are anxious it will never even sing… It is a good plan, too, to talk very loudly to each other about how you don’t need any tea and are not going to have any… you shout out, so that the kettle can overhear you, “I don’t want any tea; do you George?” to which George shouts back “Oh, no, I don’t like tea; we’ll have lemonade instead…” Upon which the kettle boils over..

 There is also some thing so obvious and default among friends. Friends always have their way of getting into the middle of matters, mess up and get cursed from within and outsiders. And this is how that happens in this travelogue,

… We had knocked those three old gentlemen off their chairs… as they worked (sorting themselves out), they cursed us – not with a common cursory curse, but with long, carefully thought-out, comprehensive curses, that embraced the whole of our career, and went away into the distant future and included all our relations, and covered everything connected with us…

Though the book may be of comedy genre the author adds profound expressions at places most appropriate. About life, nature and as children of Mother Nature how we would communicate our sadness to her, just by a moan. No words would be necessary to talk to her. He also draws realization, upon packing, about keeping the life simple without adding the burdens of materialistic possessions – life packed light and how one would feel contented when one’s stomach is satisfied. True, “… a clear conscience makes you very happy and contented; but a full stomach does the business quiet as well”. 

So, this is a must read if like your pass-time to be of bursting laughter that you would try to stifle often to the room. And finally, this sentence, just this single sentence, actually piqued my interest to read this book, “everything has its drawbacks, as the man said when his mother-in-law died, and they came down upon him for the funeral expenses”.  Guess that would draw you too!

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To a Temple and a Play

While the logic behind time-travel itself is vastly debatable, even on a fundamental level, everyone of us have a fascination to travel back in time. To somewhere personal, to a place of historical importance, or perhaps to a place so still and away from the daily hustles. Personally, I am very much drawn towards history which extends a bit further to the myths too! Of-course future is intriguing, but it can wait. Setting my mobile phone between different time zones is the closest I could get about time-travel. However on the brighter side, there are already immense opportunities to peek into the past – through the timeless sculptures, the mind-blowing literary works that pass through generations and live along as folklore and subtle classic art forms. Even an unearthed ware of the past would hold stories to be told.

Visiting Rameswaram and watching the play Ponniyin Selvan recently, in successive weeks, were quiet a stroll in the past. Ram-Eswaram is where Lord Ram worshiped Lord Shiva (Eeswar) to absolve the sins caught upon killing demon King Ravana. And Ponniyin Selvan which translates to “Son of River Cauvery (Ponni)” is a play based on semi-fictional historical novel of the same name.

Lakshmanan Temple Pool at Rameshwaram

The Island Rameswaram in the southern most of India was the happening ground, as the epic literature Ramayana nears the climatic war in the neighboring island Srilanka. The myth runs in the very air of the town. Only that its real sense of spiritualism is getting lost with the growing commercialism around religion and superstitions among mindless people. Nevertheless, as the local cabbie took us through important landmarks, it gave me an imperssion as though the myth was only a history and Lord Ram, his consort Sita, his brother Lakshman and his devout Hanuman, they all once walked the place. Places like Villoondi Theertham (Arrow-Hit-Water), floating stones supposedly of present day Adams Bridge, Ram’s footprint they all suggest a real nature to the epic.

Villoondi Theertham is a well, very very close to the ocean waves that is unbelievably fresh, but reasonably, which per the epic is because Lord Ram struck the well point by his magical arrow to quench his lady’s thirst. Later on when Sita was kidnapped by Ravana, a floating bridge was built by Ram’s army to reach Ravana’s lair. As much as the water I tasted was fresh, the rocks in the display of a nearby temple were floating. But I didn’t feel like researching it’s authenticity when they offered the rock for a price so cheap as 500 bucks. But the fact remains true about a bridge (floating?) walk-able until a couple of centuries ago.

While various temples of Lord Ram around were simple, old rock structures, the prime temple where Lord Shiva is in the form of Linga, astoundingly covers a length of two to three streets with arrays of rock pillars intricately carved and aligned to utmost geometric perfection. Within the temple there are 22 holy-water wells each with a name and meaning and every pilgrim gets a bucket of water poured over the head from each of the 22. That was fun. After all the drenching in holy waters and temple visits, one is suggested to visit ultimately the temple Ekantha Ramar Kovil where Lord Ram finally had peace after a troubled phase of exile and war. It is believed that the pilgrims too would find happiness in life upon visiting this temple of Exultant Ram.

From there time got forwarded by a week, to 10th century exactly on the stage, where the titular character Arulmozhi Varman (Ponniyin Selvan) ultimately becomes the crown prince over conspiracies, royal murder, vengeance and unprecedented twists that are subtly linked like a web. And he actually went on to become the greatest Chola king in the history.

Crew of Ponniyin Selvan Play

Given that the classic novel has more than two generation old fans and quiet a big plot spanning five books with numerous characters, the expectations were high.  And to put such a huge book into a three and a half hour play, keeping up with the key aspects and characters of the book, were definitely a difficult task, which the Magic Lantern team produced in an inspiring way on stage. The simple stage was preset cleverly to exhibit a fort at the background and a bit of rocky ledges around and a puddle of water upfront. The puddle was sometimes a pond and some times the ocean. Oh! we got the picture very well there. Only a little manual work was required to add details to the scenes in between.

As the story travels with the protagonist Vanthiyathevan the quickwitted warrior, who carries the message of his friend  – the crown prince Aaditha Karikaalan, to the sick Emperor and his sister Kundavai the princess, he stumbles upon conspiracies, falls in love with the good-beautiful princess, double plays with the evil but the most beautiful usurper Nandhini, gets  into neck deep trouble often and finally ends up being a good friend of young prince Arulmozhi Varman at a distant island Sri Lanka. He also encounters Aalvaarkadiyaan a wandering pilgrim who turns out to be the Minister’s spy, a carefree fisher-girl with a dream of becoming a queen one day and Paluvettaraiyar the commander in chief of the empire who plays a pivotal role. Despite the extended hour, the play kept us seated throughout and the performance as a whole including the folk dances in between enthralled the audience who had been waiting to see the classic in some live action form for a long time.

Now, talking about the history, time travel and all, it raises in me the question,
“Do we now have our earth as a place worth visiting from the future?”