Literary character from Little Women – Beth March

As Louisa May Alcott’s acclaimed book – Little Women completes 150 years in literature, more new TV series and movie adaptations are coming to screens to celebrate the legacy of Little Women. The characters of Little Women are so lively and real to life that we feel that we know them closely as our neighbors next door.
A lot is written about Jo March, the protagonist of the novel who is the alter ego of author Louisa herself. Apart from Jo, it is Beth March who has captivated the minds of readers through her minimal but significant appearance in the book.

Claire danes as Beth March in 1994 movie Little Women. Winona Ryder portrayed Jo March.

Louisa wrote the character of Beth March as a tribute to her sister Elizabeth who too died of sickness in her childhood. Unlike today’s Instagram generation girls, Beth March leads an uneventful life. She is homely, shy, and too timid to attend school. Thus Beth is content with her old piano and her dolls. Jo March takes her younger sister Beth under her wings and acts as a guardian when her mother must leave home to take care of her husband Mr. March who is sick on war front. Like her mother, even Beth March is generous and helpful in nature. While nursing an infant, Beth gets affected from Scarlet fever. It is this episode that changes the situation of the story. Jo March blames herself for ignoring her younger angelic sister Beth. Though Beth recovers from fever temporarily, it leaves her completely exhausted. There comes an episode where Jo March feels that Beth has soft corner for Laurie and abandons her plans of loving Laurie. In the chapter ‘Valley of the shadow’, Beth regrets that she didn’t do anything for her family. She loved her home, her parents, siblings and her piano. The death of Beth is the one of the painful moment in the book that left me to tears. Unlike her sisters – Meg and Amy, Beth has no ambitions to pursue. In her final moments, she tells Jo to take care of her parents after her departure.

‘You must take my place Jo and be everything to father and mother when I am gone’ – lines from the chapter ‘Valley of the shadow’ in Little Women

What captivated me most in this novel is the broad mindedness of the characters in the novel especially of Mr. Laurence, the grandfather of Laurie. When he realizes that Beth is too shy to play piano in his mansion, he gifts her little piano which once belonged to his late granddaughter. Sadly, even Beth passes away. Compared to today’s generation girls who are too showy, fashionista and full of bragging, Beth March is misfit in this progressive world which is too stone hearted, ambitious and fast in its mindset. Kind virtues like generosity, thanksgiving, friendship and sibling love are been explored in Little Women.

‘Beth never puts a foot out of line or asks for anything for herself, and the result is that she is literally too good to live’

It is Beth who believes in Jo’s writings and boosts her to keep writing despite of criticisms. After Beth’s death, Jo is completely devastated as everyone leaves her. She is left alone with her pen and paper. Even her sister Amy and friend Laurie abandon her in later chapters. Emptiness surrounds around Jo. Finally Jo’s friend Fredrich Bhaer fills Beth’s space by encouraging her to write that will bring out the best writer in her.

Claire Danes as Beth March in 1994 movie adaptation of Little Women

The role of Beth March was played by actress Claire Danes in 1994 movie adaptation of Little Women. It was an award winning role for Claire to play Beth with such tenderness that viewers’ hearts reach out for this simple girl. There is so much emotional depth in Alcott’s writings that one keeps craving to read Little Women multiple times.

To know more about Beth March, I highly recommend my reader friends to read Louisa May Alcott’s classic novel – Little Women.

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Why Louisa May Alcott’s Jo March is an inspiring literary character?

“I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.” – Excerpt from Louisa May Alcott’s book ‘Little Women’

Maya hawke as Jo March in BBC One TV adaptation of Little Women

If I had to choose between Jo March and Elizabeth Bennett as my inspiration for writing, I would definitely vote for Louisa May Alcott’s character Josephine or Jo March. Initially I had presumed Little Women and Pride and Prejudice to be similar in story lines. After reading both the novels, I realized that both books were diverse by leaps and bounds. If Author Jane Austen’s character Elizabeth Bennett is in search of a suitable soulmate, Alcott’s Jo March is in pursuit of dreams to become a successful writer. Louisa May Alcott’s popular timeless classic – Little Women is one novel that has never been out of print and been continuously adapted for motion pictures and TV series. Set against the backdrop of civil war, Little Women is story of Jo March and her three sisters who discover the joy of growing up and the difficulties they endure smilingly even in hours of adversity.

“I’ve got the key to my castle in the air, but whether I can unlock the door remains to be seen.”

Winona Ryder as Jo March in 1994 movie Little Women

Jo March is not just the alter ego of author Louisa May Alcott; she is feminine representation of every ambitious girl who desires to be something in life. She is bubbly, generous, open-minded and helpful. If she has her qualities, she too has her flaws. Tomboyish, short-tempered, sharp tongue and outspoken nature makes Jo March less friendly among her social circle. Due to her outspoken nature, she even loses her chance to go abroad. In her father’s absence, Jo and her elder sister Meg become bread earner of the house, providing financial support to her mother and becoming guardians of their younger sisters – Beth and Amy. Jo and her family befriend the lonely rich lad Laurie. Though Laurie takes a liking for Jo, she considers him just a friend. Though Jo is keen to reciprocate to Laurie’s feeling, a misunderstanding that Beth too loves Laurie forces Jo to sacrifice her affection. In the later chapters, Jo realizes that Beth only considered Laurie as her brother. Jo’s sacrificing nature is seen in one of her chapters where she cuts off her long hair and sells it off to a salon to provide monetary help for her family.

“Some people seemed to get all sunshine, and some all shadow…”

Though Jo has her virtues, she can’t control her temper. The most interesting episode in the book is the situation when Jo refuses to take Amy to theatre and Amy ends up burning up Jo’s manuscripts as revenge. Jo and Amy are bit similar in their nature but can’t see eye to eye. As story progresses, Jo’s elder sister gets married and younger Beth gets fatally sick due to scarlet fever. Though Jo nurses her shy little sister Beth, Beth breathes her last leaving behind fond memories of her innocence in Jo’s heart. That chapter is the tender moment in Jo March’s life as she is left all alone. It was Beth who believed in Jo’s writings and inspired her to pursue her writing dreams. After Beth, it is her friend Fredrich Bhaer who motivates her to bring out the best in her writings. Despite the setbacks, rejections and immediate changes happening in her life, Jo March bravely faces every storm of adversities. In the climax, Jo March finally finds her soul mate in Fredrich and they start a school to educate little kids.

Jo March has been inspiring girls and boys for several generations. She even inspires me to write. Whenever I face writer’s block, I seek the help of Jo March by reading Little Women. Her aspiration to become writer infuses a new energy in me to keep on writing despite the criticisms. Today’s literary characters like Bela Swan from Twilight book or Harry Potter may be popular, but they don’t have that personal bonding which I feel while reading about Jo March in Little Women. She is the girl one can easily relate to. Even her flaws make her favorite among her followers, readers and fans who have been idolizing her for past 150 years since the book’s publication. The role of Jo March was portrayed by versatile actress Winona Ryder in the 1994 movie – Little Women. Winona Ryder’s heart felt performance earned her an Oscar nomination for her role as Jo March. Off lately, new TV and movie adaptations brought new Jo March to audience. The role of Jo March has been played by Maya Ray Thurman Hawke in BBC One’s Television adaptation of Little Women while Sarah Davenport is Jo March in modern retelling of Alcott’s classic in 2018’s Little Women movie. There is a new movie adaptation of Little Women scheduled to release in late 2019 featuring Saiorse Ronan as Jo March. To know more about the character Jo March, do read the books – Little Women, Good Wives (Part 2 of Little Women), Little Men and Jo’s Boys.

Sarah Davenport as Jo March in modern adaptation of Little Women

This is my small tribute to the book Little Women and its character Jo March who completes 150 years in world of literature. Sometimes I find fictional characters more real than the people around me. Even in the crowd of billions of book titles, Jo March is still remembered in Louisa May Alcott’s book – Little Women.

I will end this write up with the epic lines penned by Louisa May Alcott.

‘Some books are so familiar, reading them is like being home again’

Malgudi School days: Adventures of Swami and friends

Malgudi School days is abridged version of author R.K.Narayan’s classic novel – Swami and friends with additional new stories of Swami, a lad residing in fictional town called Malgudi based in South India. Swami is a reflection or alter ego of every kid in this world. Through the character Swami, R.K.Narayan has captured the childhood innocence and the world of school kids in a beautiful yet realistic way with touch of humor.

Today’s literary characters like Percy Jackson and Harry Potter are more fantasized with too much imagination. R.K.Narayan’s protagonists – Swami, Talkative man and the common characters in his short stories have a personal connection with the readers. Like all the characters in R.K.Narayan’s short stories, even Swaminathan fondly called as Swami has to endure the parental discipline and the burden of going to school on Monday mornings. He feels fatigued to solve mathematics problems and is scared to death by the presence of his teachers Ebenazar and Samuel. The story of Swami is set in pre-independent India where protests marches are carried out against British even in small town like Malgudi. The other kids – Mani, Rajam, Shankar and Pea make their presence felt in the narrative. Especially the rogue kid Mani reminds me of Mark Twain’s character Huckleberry Finn while Rajam is Richie rich type kid. There is no romantic angle in R.K.Narayan’s story. Unlike Rusty and Tom Sawyer who fall in love, R.K.Narayan’s character Swami has no time for such infatuations. What really fascinates Swami is the Sarayu River, the playground, his school friends and doting family.

Swami’s most trusted confidante is his granny who treasures betel nuts, old copper coins and loves to listen to Swami’s misadventures and bragging courageous stories. The emotional moment in the book is Swami’s loneliness when his friends abandon him. In moment of solitude, he makes paper boat and immerses it in the water. He even places a black ant in the boat. The boat is crushed under a rock, causing death to the ant. Swami prays for the departed soul of the ant. Here author R.K.Narayan’s brings out the best of child’s innocence. The Malgudi cricket club episode in this children’s classic will remind you of masterpiece novel – Tom Brown’s School days which is centered on hostel and a rugby match.

From making paper boats, forming Malgudi cricket club to running away from home, Swami’s misadventures and childhood innocent moments will tug the hearts of every reader. In South India, parents were much disciplined towards education, culture, tradition and thus kids were not allowed to watch cinemas. They were encouraged to participate in sports, read books and attend classical music concerts. Swami belonged to that era. Swami’s fear of staying along at night in office and the presence of rowdy coach man’s son are some hilarious moments that brings out the flaws as well as Swami’s boldness in light hearted way. Like Swami, I too had run away from home to explore the world only to return and get good thrashing from my mother. Every child had once dared to run away from the disciplined life and tyrannical education to explore adventure.

R.K.Narayan’s book Swami and friends was adapted for television series in late 80’s by acclaimed Kannada actor and director Shankar Nag. The series on Doordarshan channel was an instant hit and became a cult classic. Today’s kids are more mobile driven and burn their fingers on key pads than playing constructive toys or making paper boats. The rare treasures like rotating top, toy train, and paper boats are hardly preserved by today’s kids. This article was a nostalgic reminiscence of childhood innocence and refreshing the memories of watching Swami and friends on Doordarshan channel.

The new edition of Malgudi School days book published by Puffin classics with cartoonist R.K.Laxman’s trademark illustrations add more nostalgia to R.K.Narayan’s most loved classic.

Manto Saheb: Friends and enemies on the great maverick

Book Title: Manto Saheb – Friends and enemies on the great maverick
Publishers: Speaking Tiger
Genre: Memoir

In the wake of acclaimed biopic on the great maverick writer ‘Manto’, I picked up this book to know about the legend behind the rebel writer – Saadat Hasan Manto. Few years back, while browsing through a pile of books in a bookstore, I came upon a translated version of Manto’s short stories. The book was in Hindi and the front cover had picture of red light area and in the back cover it had photo of Manto Saheb. I was bit intimidated to buy this book as I presumed to be too realistic and disturbing. I didn’t know anything about the writer Manto. I even forgot the name. Several years later, when I watched the short film – In defence of freedom, wisdom dawned on me. I regretted for leaving that book. Manto Saheb: Friends and enemies on the great maverick is a latest nostalgic memoir that refreshes the events happened in life of Manto. Not just friends and relatives, even his contemporaries, competitors and rivals have written an article in remembrance of the eccentric writer who dared to tell truth.

Among all the memoirs in this book, the one that stood out was the article of author Ishmat Chughtai on Manto. She recalls how they used to have a heated debate on writing. Manto was a difficult person to communicate with. Chughtai’s article gives you an intimate glimpse at Manto’s rapport with his friends and family. Even Manto’s daughter has written a memoir remembering her late father. For the world, he may be an outspoken rebellious writer, but for his children he was a doting father. His untimely death due to excessive consumption of alcohol left his family in jeopardy. Especially Manto’s wife Safia had to face lots of trials in life after Manto’s death. The financial difficulties and herculean responsibility of upbringing three daughters was too stressful for her. All the memoirs in this book show different shades of Manto. Even after reading this memoir completely, you will still keep wondering who really Manto was? – An excessive alcoholic, a rebellious writer, an outspoken person or a traveler who loved Bombay more than any other city. After partition, Manto had to leave Bombay with a heavy heart. The regret of leaving Bombay stayed in his mind till the final days of his life. It was very sad to read that in low times, he sold his writings for 25 to 30 Rs. to his publishers. Even in the downward period, he wrote masterpiece short story like ‘Toba Tek Singh which reflected his own pain on leaving his most loved city – Bombay. Leaving India during the time of partition was his biggest mistake which he regretted till the last moments of his life. The fatiguing court trials, accusations of being labeled as writer of obscene stories reduced a maverick writer to an excessive alcoholic.

The iconic pic of Saadat Hassan Manto

The one memoir that stands out in this book is the article by Manto’s rival Upendranath Ashk. In this Upendranath’s memoir, you will see some grey shades of Manto’s personality and the constant cut throat competition between Upendranath and Manto. Despite the rivalry, Upendranath held a great respect for Manto. The untimely death of Manto left even his strongest rival to tears. Every contributor’s view on Manto shows you different shades in Manto’s personality. I was spellbound by the lyrical writings in this memoir. Manto Saheb is only the beginning in understanding Manto’s books and the wealth of stories he left behind. Neither Mumbaikars nor the city knows about Manto, but Manto loved this city like anything and his observations about the city are recorded in the book – Bombay Stories. ‘Manto Saheb’ is an outstanding book on a great unsung writer who advocated truth through his realistic writings.

Baazaar – Movie Preview

‘When it is a question of money, everybody of the same religion’ – lines from novel ‘The Sialkot Saga’

The upcoming movie – Baazaar starring actor Saif Ali Khan as an ambitious trade tycoon Shakun Kothari reminded me of Michael Douglas as the scheming trader in movie 1987 Hollywood movie – Wall Street. Baazaar is a commercial movie that delves into the calculative world of trading, monetary scams, illegal funding and corrupted business tycoons. Shakun Kothari is more of antagonist, a shrewd businessman whose hunger for money can make him any cross the limits of ethics, values, honesty. A small town protégé Riaz Ahmed who idolizes Shakun Kothari is ready to cross any limits to learn the ropes of money making under the wings of his mentor. Their paths meet and hell breaks loose. Who will be the pawn and who will be the player? Will Riaz lose his integrity and conscience to indulge in seduction of money and scandals? Baazaar is set against the backdrop of stock exchange where Sensex index determines the fate of countless shareholders every second. Money, seduction, betrayal, backstabbing, scandals is what you will see in the upcoming corporate drama – Baazaar. Baazaar boasts of a big star cast which includes Radhika Apte, Chitrangada Singh and debutante Rohan Mehra as Riaz Ahmed.

‘Bada aadmi banna hai, toh line cross karni hogi’– dialogue from movie Baazaar

Money’s seduction is more lethal than a voluptuous woman. There is an old saying that money can’t buy everything. In today’s scenario, it is better to shed your tears in your Mercedes car than traveling in sweaty local trains and shabby buses. The trailer of Baazaar also reminded me of Hollywood movie – Wolf of Wall street starring Leonardo diCaprio. Years back a same movie ‘Shikhar’ was made in backdrop of construction business starring Ajay Devgan and Shahid Kapoor. It was too inspired by Wall Street. Saif Ali Khan’s character Shakun Kothari has more grey shades than Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray. It will be refreshing to see Saif unveiling his dark side after ‘Ek Hasina Thi’ and ‘Omkara’.

Baazaar looks promising as a corporate crime thriller backed by catchy dialogues, powerful performances, foot tapping music and an engrossing storyline. It is scheduled to release on 26th October 2018.

Memories of 1980’s Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations

Social networking doesn’t connect people, festivals do. Wishing friends on festive occasions through messaging apps is not a big deal. Festivals bring people together under one roof. When it comes to celebrating Ganesh Chaturthi festival, no city can compete in vibrancy like Mumbai does. Mumbaikars are applauded for their never say die spirit. Be it any calamity like Monsoon floods, buses strike or political Bandh, the citizens face it bravely. I have closely witnessed the changing phases in celebration of Ganesh Chaturthi right from 1980’s to the 2018’s Instagram age where more emphasize is placed on branding of God Ganesha. God is beyond branding.

Today Ganesh Mandals compete for the best Ganesha Idols with exquisite decoration. I appreciate the competitive energy, but it should be it taken in sporty spirit without getting too much ambitious. Ganesh Chaturthi is festival of devotion, togetherness, happiness and foodie delightfulness.

Back in1980’s, the city’s infrastructure had a very simplistic look. There were no smart phones, gadgets, multiplexes, shopping malls, credit cards or corporate culture. Life was down to earth and so were people. People ran their family within their minimal budget. No matter how debt ridden the 80’s Mumbaikar may be, he used to have separate savings for celebrations of festivals. The bread earner used to eat meal only time and saved his money for his family’s needs. Since I stayed in chawl system and small buildings too, I have closely noticed the enthusiasm of people during eve of Ganesh Chaturthi. Ganesh Idols used to be booked one month in advance. Our building owner used to organize a big event during the Ganesh Chaturthi. After welcoming Bappa in home, prayers were offered along with chanting aarti. What I waited most was the big prasad event when guests were offered puris, modaks, dal, vegetables and sweets. I and my brother used to relish on the prasad like hard core foodies. In the evening, my maternal uncle used to take us to the Sarvajanik Ganesh Mandals to view the beautiful Ganesha idols. In those times of 80’s there was no concept like branding. There used to be special events where small stories were shown with help of idols and lighting. As a kid, I was so swept away in the festive spirit of Mumbai.

During the last day of immersion, I couldn’t stand the view of God get immersed in lakes. The moment was too emotional for me. As I grew and understood the cultural concept behind the festival, I was always keen to celebrate the festival with aplomb. Today people are becoming environmental conscious and prefer to bring eco-friendly Ganesha idols. Especially in cities like Pune and Konkan, Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations are in full swing. Since Mumbai is the business hub, Ganesh Chaturthi festival is more vibrant than any carnivals or festivals held in foreign nations. Even foreign tourists are enthusiastic to enjoy Ganesh Chaturthi festival. The beaches of Mumbai have a philosophical feel to it. During the immersion of Ganesha idols, the beaches itself become a sea of people. The immense crowd, the setting sun, the devotional cries of ‘Bappa Morya’ becomes a venue of emotional farewell.

Such is the charm of this festive occasion. Some things do disappoint me during the events are the partiality done on the common masses during this festive event. Bollywood artists, political personalities and business tycoons are given VIP treatments while commoners have to wait 8 to 10 hours, hungry and thirsty. Why this biased behavior? Isn’t every human being equal in eyes of God? I personally feel that these publicity hungry celebrities, tycoons and political leaders should be made to wait in line along with the commoners compulsory. The Ganesh Chaturthi festival of 1980’s Bombay had its own nostalgic memories. The 1980 was the year where people had time for each other in every occasion. Be it festival or any difficult moment, they stood for each other. I lived that moment of 80’s Mumbai. Today I feel lost in the crowd of corporate class people.

Regardless of changing phases, I still wait for the Ganesh Chaturthi celebrations every year.

Bappa Morya!!!

In defence of freedom – A short film on creative independence in writing

Recently months back, I watched a short film – In defence of freedom on Youtube. It was directed by acclaimed actress Nandita Das. The short film shows celebrated Urdu writer Saadat Hasan Manto addressing a class. The role of Manto is played by versatile actor Nawazzudin Siddiqui. While sharing his thoughts to a class of students, Manto justifies his stand on writing. He had been accused for writing provocative stories with substance of obscenity. All his stories have been criticized for being hard-hitting, vulgar, disturbing and brutally honest. He even had to face court trials for his short stories.

Be it Madame Bovary or Lady Chatterley’s lover, the writer of those books had to face criticisms for writing obscenity. In this short film, Manto addresses lots of issues on censorship in writing. When asked why his short stories are about prostitutes, Manto defends by saying that aren’t prostitutes a part of society. When people visit brothels, then it is no crime, then why shouldn’t a writer highlight the pathos of prostitutes through his stories? He even justifies his stand about writing abusive language in his stories. In day to day life, everyone mouths down filthy swearing words. Through his short stories, he only reflects the scenario of people and their lingo. In the short film, one of the students in the class points out that people get depressive and mentally drained by reading Manto’s stories. On hearing his question, Manto advises the student to speak only what he personally feels and not on basis of other people’s opinion.

The short film highlights the democratic rights and freedom of expression for writers in world of literature. Writers are criticized on every front – be it the writing style, story, grammar, structure or any technical aspect related to writing. Today there are several writing platforms and publishing houses that give writers’ opportunity the creative freedom to voice their ideas through their words. In times of Manto, opportunities were less and publishing houses paid very less. Despite the odds, Manto made his work stand out apart from the crowd.

If I recount my experiences, I had written an article on love affairs and justified my stand on that issue. Lots of people, especially my colleagues personally criticized the article giving it a thumb down. According to them, it was a trash write up that focused lot on infidelity, unfaithfulness, and steamy relationships. I was so morally down and discouraged by the bitter response that I decided to give up writing. Observe any segment of society, love affairs or extra-marital affairs happen. Be it a corporate office or a university campus, love blossoms among teens and adults coming from various walks of life. Many people advised me to give up writing, but the rebel writer in me couldn’t resist himself from putting his ideas, thoughts and emotions on his word document. Watch any movie like Bridges of Madison County or The English Patient, these movies narrated the stories of failed relationship of people and their quest to find true love in arms of other individual. They were hailed as masterpiece in world of movies. Even the 2005 movie – The Brokeback Mountain a tender love story between two cowboys was highly appreciated.

No story is good or bad. Story is a story. People make their opinions based on their thinking. Even a talented writer like Thomas Hardy was so heavily criticized for his novel that he gave up writing full length novel. Despite facing criticisms, writers like Thomas Hardy, Ernest Hemingway, and Stephen King continued to write.

A still from Biopic Manto

Even after several years, Manto’s stories are relevant and been read worldwide. Had Manto survived, he would have definitely fetched a Pulitzer Prize for his contribution towards literature. Ironically, after the partition, he had to leave India and especially the city Bombay he loved the most. Lack of writing opportunities, poverty, court trials, and alcoholism took a toll on his life. There is Manto hidden in every creative person – writer, painter, sculptor or fashion designer. I personally recommend every creative person to watch this short film – In defence of freedom.

A still from movie Manto

To know more about Manto, read his books – Radionaama, My name is Radha, Mottled dawn, Bombay Stories, Kingdom’s end: Selected stories, Why I write and Stars from another sky & his masterpiece story – Toba Tek Singh. Manto didn’t write stories to create sensation. His stories were dark and true reflection of society.

Saadat Hasan Manto’s life is ready as a Bollywood biopic – Manto and is scheduled to release in September 2018.