CHEAP THRILLS

9e1a511e7a9166a72e30bd913768d213Growing up in south India at a time when the West was not as accessible as it is to Indians today, my first glimmerings of the wild life I (delusionally) believed all Americans and Europeans led was via the thrillers of writers like James Hadley Chase. Yes, I read Agatha Christie too, and more sedate authors, but it was the paperback thrillers I found most addictive, for they spoke of hippies and drugs and scarlet women pouting at bad guys and getting murdered—and of course there was always the unwary bystander or canny detective who got dragged willy-nilly into the spicy stew.

Oh, how exciting it was to get one of those books in my greedy hands and to devour it at a single stretch! There were times I’d read a book a day, and since it wasn’t easy to find this kind of material lying around then, I’d woo anyone who had a home library and was willing to share his/her hoard with me.

It was my brother-in-law, an academic and professor, who dourly pointed out to me the effects that reading what he called ‘trash’ would have on my impressionable mind. It’s a hard addiction to break, he warned, and when you need to digest serious stuff, you won’t be able to. I dismissed his warnings since I was doing very well in academics myself, and believed, with all the raw arrogance of youth, that I knew better than preachy fuddy-duddies how to separate study from fun. Continue reading

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Demon of Eclipses & Illusions – Part 1/9

opening_imageStrolling down Manhattan’s Broadway in the early 1990s, I stopped to stare at a dramatic hoarding, the elements of which I shall attempt to recapitulate for you: a smoldering cigarette hangs out the corner of the mouth of an older woman with a halo of frizzy gray hair; her heavily made-up face barely masks a mesh of wrinkles and furrows, her cunning eyes are narrowed as a shield against the rising smoke, her cracked smoker’s lips are painted a bright red; as for the ironic caption below, it reads: Smoking Is Glamorous.

Oh what a powerful message! I thought, even as I dragged deeply on the fragrant Nat Sherman cigarette hanging, Bohemian style, out of the side of my own mouth. But despite the irony of that moment, that harsh image continued to hover on the fringes of my insubordinate mind, warning me how I might end up if I didn’t quit smoking.

Back in India, two upper-class women of my mother’s generation had ended their lives looking pretty similar to the hag on the hoarding. Both had thumbed their noses at convention and taken up smoking and drinking with a vengeance. Both had died heavily burdened by the circumstances of their lives, their striking beauty a sad memory; despite medical warnings, the mounting concern of their respective families, and their own fierce wills, neither had ever been able to quit either ciggies or booze. Continue reading