Sunday, September 16, 2012

Book Review: Powder Room by Shefalee Vasudev

Title: Powder Room
Author: Shefalee Vasudev
 Random House India
Pages: 335
Price: Rs 399
Format: Hardbound
Genre: Non Fiction / Fashion
Rating: 10/10

Madhur Bhandarkar’s movie ‘Fashion’ was the first to explore what is little known to the general people, like me, of the world of fashion. But like all his other films, the characters were too unidimensional and the story was largely put together by mix-and-match of some controversial scoops from the Fashion world. There were no insights. It looked what it was – an outsider’s view of the workings of the Indian Fashion. It was high time an insider threw some light.

I first read about this book here, and I was hooked. Fashion is such a fascinating subject. Moreover, I had a ‘Fashion Designer’ phase while growing up, so I am pretty well-versed with a lot of fashion designers and models. I think Sushmita Sen winning the coveted Miss Universe title was a defining moment for Indian Fashion industry. Atleast my generation, which was still in school, took notice of this field. I even had a ‘Fashion Journalist’ phase. But today in retrospect, I am glad I did not become either.  I am not cut out for the Fashion world. I hardly care about clothes now (I mean the latest trend and not wearing!).

‘Powder Room’ by Shefalee Vasudev, an ex-Marie Claire editor and a journalist for 15 years writing on popular culture, social trends and fashion, attempts to offer a 360 degree view of the Indian Fashion industry. She interviewed 300 people within the scope of her book to understand what ‘fashion’ means to them. What came out eventually in the form of a book is an expansive view of Indian fashion industry –it takes into account how everyone perceives fashion and how fashion touches everyone and its impact, which is surprisingly far reaching and wide-spread. This book is as much about the elite class who can afford the latest luxury brands as much it is about the middle class shopper who gets a replica made for considerably low cost.

With a fetching cover page, the book is divided into ten chapters, each focusing on a distinct aspect of fashion. ‘Powder Room’ packs a lot in its 330-odd pages. Here are a few glimpses:

The famous fashion designer Raakesh Agarvwal talks about fighting his personal demons, getting overwhelmed by the downside of fashion world to getting back on track and finally getting acclaim. Jennifer, the Sales girl with a luxury brand, admits to the conflict between her middle class personal life and the professional one surrounded with luxury brands and elite customers. Ludhiana ladies make dream customers for the luxury brands in their eagerness to lap up every latest offering. The super rich splurge on designer wear but India has a huge middle class which cannot afford those expensive clothes, and thus the emergence of darzi culture.

It was also refreshing to read about all kinds of models - where there are desperate ones like Nagma, eager to do whatever it takes to make it big; there are also the practical ones like Laxmi Rana and a lot of other senior models who have learnt to draw the line and keep their sanity. There are observations about Naga culture and fashion, and surprising lack of organized retail stores in a fashion conscious state.

While Rohit Bal stands out for the luxurious clothes he creates and the dramatic way in which he presents; Sabyasachi Mukherjee also has a huge following for his clothes which are distinctive and original. He is obsessed with Indian weaves, textiles and embroideries, and goes all out to revive, sustain, contemporarize the traditional crafts. The story of Patan Patola sarees and Salvi family actually mimic the fate of a lot of original Indian weaves and crafts. Without their openness to experimentation and any unique marketing strategy to make those traditional weaves aspirational for the young generation, the art is sure to get lost in the near future. 

The fashion media consists of stylists and editors from fashion magazines on one hand, and journalists who cover fashion as a segment for the mainstream newspapers on the other hand. The former focuses on insights and latest trends while the latter thrives on controversies and scoops. And finally the much talked about fashion world politics – feuding fashion designers, multitude of fashion weeks sprouted even in B-class cities now, no clear criteria for selection of young designers for them, and many such industry specifics. Bridal wear is certainly a big business avenue for the Indian fashion world and top designers agree that no matter what they show on the ramp, they are making a lot of Indian wear for their customers.

Eventually, ‘Powder Room’ is insightful, informative, gripping and eye-opening. It gives you an all-round view, multiple perspectives of fashion world and what fashion means to different people. The author explores the “aspects of modern India through fashion”, while also offering a study on evolving fashion consciousness. Though she steers clear of the controversial topics, she does discuss the pitfalls and downside of the fashion world but gives enough examples of people who have made it and yet not lost their heads to the excesses.

I am not in a position to comment if she has done justice to the Indian fashion world, may be her contemporaries can comment better. But as far as it is about me, I had a great time reading this book. It opened surprising as well as interesting aspects of a world, which has not been too talked about in books. May be there are many more things to say but it is certainly a good beginning.

A must read for anybody interested in fashion world, fashion students as well as people who are interested in anthropology, culture and social change. It strengthens my belief that non fiction is an extremely interesting category to read.

P.S. I googled every reference that she throws in – whether people, books or articles. I also googled all those cover pages she talks about.

Image courtesy: Random House India website

Friday, September 7, 2012

Book Review: We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Title: We Need To Talk About Kevin 
Author: Lionel Shriver
 Serpent’s Tail
Pages: 477
Format: Paperback
Genre: Fiction
Rating: 10/10

Thought provoking, nuanced, ambiguous, horrific, dark, multi-layered, disturbing, unputdownable, engrossing, terrifying, even haunting – these are some of the words which popped into my mind while reading this extraordinary book. I often forgot that it was a work of fiction but it could have easily been a real story.

In ‘We Need to Talk about Kevin’ by Lionel Shriver, the story unfolds through a series of letters by Eva Khatchadourian addressed to her husband, Franklin. Through her candid letters, Eva tries to pursue the possible reasons that eventually led her first born Kevin to murder seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher, three days short of his sixteenth birthday. She ruminates, evaluates, examines several incidents, feelings and experiences from before Kevin was born leading up to the present context (two years after the unfortunate incident).

In the beginning, she is taken in by the idea of having a child “for a change” but eventually when she finds that she was pregnant she did not like the idea any longer. Pregnancy felt intrusive in her personal space. Even after the baby was born, she failed to feel the connect with her newborn. She detested the changes it brought to her body and to their lives. In her letters, she candidly admits to her faults and her failings as a mother, in order to single out the reasons that eventually led Kevin to commit the unthinkable. 

She confesses to being a bad mother. When little Kevin tells her that she did not want him. In response, Eva tells Kevin that he would not want himself. All in the guise of being factual. She was also envious about Franklin's attention for the baby. The way baby responded to him and he behaved with the baby. 

She felt early on that Kevin was not an ordinary child. There was something odd about him. He was evil by birth. But she forever struggles to convince Franklin about this because Kevin is always the regular, loving, enthusiastic child in front of him. Eva believed that Kevin was a scheming, shrewed boy, not a little innocent child. The way Kevin behaves in front of Eva is almost eerie but Franklin always laughs off all such incidents. He might have been even unreasonable in convincing himself that there could not be anything wrong with his child. Eva goes up to the extent of having a second child Celia to prove (even to herself) that Kevin was certainly different and her own emotions as a mother were quite alright for the second child. A lot of times, Eva seemed even scared of Kevin.

Eva comes across as cold, proud and also vulnerable at times, but still Eva and Franklin could be any regular couple and that is what terrifies the most. This could happen to anybody!

The story telling and characterization are probably one of the best that I have ever read. This book is in the league of classics. A must-read if you are also a parent! It is the kind of book that stays with you long after you have finished it. You cannot stop thinking about it. 

It is a difficult book to read but always engaging, never slow. I cannot recommend it enough!

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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Book Recommendations: Books on baby development and child care

Market is flooded with child care books and like in everything else, the internet comes handy in selecting just the right one for reference. I would also suggest discussing with fellow mothers. It always helps to get recommendations from others in the same boat. And at the end of the day, follow your instincts.

What to Expect: the First Year by Heidi Murkoff (with Sharon Mazel) – This book is only for the first year of the baby, so it addresses all the issues which you might have during the first year, and at 800 pages is pretty exhaustive in exclusively addressing the first year of a baby’s development and care.
It is divided into 4 Parts:
Part 1. The First Year – This gives you month by month account of a child’s development, what to expect each month and various issues one might face, for example, feeding issues, colic, baby necessities, child-proofing, etc.
Part 2. Of Special Concern – This chapter deals with concerns like baby’s health in changing weather, planning for travel, when baby is sick, most common health problems, first aid do’s and don’t’s, special needs baby, adopted baby, etc.
Part 3. For the Family – Concerns of a new mother, notes for father, when you have an older child at home
Part 4. Ready Reference – It contains baby’s first recipes across months according to his development, Common home remedies and Common childhood infections.
This book is pretty detailed and extremely useful for the first year, but it will be almost redundant after that.

Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care – Another favourite with new parents, this book will be handy till the time your child is 18 years. It is divided into 6 sections:
Section 1. Your Child, Age by Age: It covers all aspects from before your child is born till the time he is eighteen years of age
Section 2. Feeding and Nutrition: From Breastfeeding to starting solid foods and addressing eating disorders; the chapter focuses on the food-related issues and nutrition.
Section 3.  Raising Mentally Healthy Children: Emotional needs, balancing children with work, discipline, sexuality, stresses – are some of the issues addressed in this chapter
Section 4. Common Developmental and Behavioural Challenges: Sibling rivalry to annoying habits, toilet training to therapies – this chapter focuses on the behavioural challenges in children and how to address them
Section 5. Learning and School: This chapter covers the areas related to school, from starting to various problems faced by school going children.
Section 6. Health and Safety: General medical issues, immunizations, overall health and common childhood illnesses; are part of this chapter
Of course, since this book has a wider scope, diverse topics have been touched upon. It has been a good reference book so far.

Raising Boys: Why Boys Are Different – How to Help Them Become Happy and Well-Balanced Men – Let’s face it, girls and boys are different, their inherent natures and tendencies are usually different. A mother, most of the time, is the primary care giver for children. With girls, we have our own experiences to fall back on a lot of times but it is a little different with boys. If you have observed, girls are usually more talkative and like to play with toys, while for boys ‘action speaks louder then words’. They need a lot of physical activities to release their energy. We end up getting frustrated with this inherent need of boys.

This book at 200 odd pages, attempts to help us understand boys, so that we help them develop into happy individuals. It covers the three stages of boyhood, the role of dads, mothers and sons, developing a healthy sexuality, sports, etc. It is a great book. (There is another book Raising Girls too but I have not read it, so would not be able to comment).

By the way, since I am at it, I would also recommend this article: Raising Boys - A dad's parenting advice for moms.

All these books are good reference books but every child is unique and a mother must follow her instincts to decide what is best for her child. The books will only act as guides to help you take informed decision. They are generic. Only you know what is best for your child or what your goals are.

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