The Rebecca effect

“Last night I dreamt I went to Manderlay again’—this line is regarded as one of the most famous lines in literature. Laced with mystery and intrigue, it provides the readers with a series of questions in the beginning of the novel, thus hooking them. What is Manderlay? Who is the narrator? Why a dream? What happened to Manderlay that she can’t go back in reality?

Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is a murder mystery—a pretty straight forward one if you ask me. It has all the required elements—jealousy, rage, sexual intrigue and murder. Not to mention romance. The plot revolves around a lonely orphan, our unnamed narrator, who worked as a ladies companion to the loud and nosy American lady—Mrs. Van Hopper. This child woman meets our mysterious Mr. Max du Winter in the French Riviera and is swept off her feet entering into holy matrimony. She starts by viewing Mr. du Winter as someone from the ancient times. “He belonged to a walled city of the fifteenth century, a city of narrow, cobbled streets, and thin spires, where the inhabitants wore pointed shoes and worsted hose. His face was arresting, sensitive, medieval in some strange inexplicable way, and I was reminded of a portrait seen in a gallery, I had forgotten where, of a certain Gentleman Unknown. Could one but rob him of his English tweeds, and put him in black, with lace at his throat and wrists, he would stare down at us in our new world from a long-distant past.”

This image of du Winter is transformed into that of an older brother she never had and eventually to the man she loved as the story progresses. Now comes the question—who is Rebecca and what is Manderlay?

First question—Rebecca is the first wife of max du winter. She is regarded as exceptionally beautiful, talented in all respects and the female figure every woman wants to imitate and one every man dreams to be with. In short—perfection. She had died by drowning in the bay near their house and the readers are lead to believe that Max and Rebecca are the perfect couple. They have everything working for them. When Rebecca dies, Max is devastated or so every other character in the story thinks and escapes to Monte Carlo to get over her death.

Second question—what is Manderlay? It is where the du winters have lived for centuries. It is a picturesque house—one which is surrounded by rose gardens on one side and the sea on the other. Our hero has a strange connection to the house. He is in love with it. Whatever he has done throughout his life has been for the welfare of his estate. Yet he seems to want to escape from there? Why? What reason can he have?

There is another character who is also regarded as one of the best female villains in literature—Mrs. Danvers, the housekeeper who is devoted to Rebecca and tries every trick in the book to get rid of our narrator.

Coming to our narrator. What do we know about her? She is an orphan. She speaks highly of her father, but we have no idea what her father did or who he was. The only thing we know is that he was a very lovely and an unusual person. Our narrator obviously comes from a lower section of the society- one can guess the middle class. She is shy, nervous and knows nothing about the du winter’s way of life. She is awkward in Manderlay and wanders where all the uneaten food goes. Other than that she is cloaked by an air of mystery when it comes to her origins. Her only occupation seems to be sketching, walking and loving her husband. This is not the type of woman who could stand a chance in front of Rebecca’s beauty and charm.

I will highlight some aspects of the book which I found posed a deep question.

  1. The narrator was haunted and taunted by Rebecca’s memories. It was as if Rebecca was omnipresent. She was everywhere without physically being there—embroidered in her handkerchief, in the portraits in the gallery, in the boathouse, inked in her book, and also in Mrs. Danvers, her representative in the living world. How is it that mere memories of a person one has never seen, can haunt them such? I don’t mean to sound like an advocate of the evil, but I somewhere have a feeling that du Maurier liked Rebecca. The book is centered around her life. She is the true heroine, in my opinion. We know more about her than we know about any other character. She gets her revenge despite being dead. From a sociological perspective, she represents everything that is unconventional for a woman of that era. She took her life in her own hands and made a man surrender to her.
  2. Manderlay in my opinion, is more than a house or an estate. It represents greed and power. It burns down in the end and it is only then that the narrator and max du winter are completely free. Though they miss Manderlay, the narrator admits that their current existence in a second star hotel is a much simpler and happier one. She secretly desires Manderlay, but never says it out loud. It is for her dreams only.
  3. You feel a sort of comradery with the narrator. She is the other woman- the inferior one who is lesser in most respects. We all as women, I am sure men too, start off in our journey as becoming a woman from a girl as shy and uncertain of ourselves. We look up to others of our respective sexes for instruction as to how to dress, how to behave, how to talk, how to walk, etc. The narrator, too, starts off as awkward but as the story progresses, she becomes that woman herself- a much better one. She jumps the hurdles in her path and lets her love for her husband dictate her actions. It is the process of her growing up.

Now for why I am such a huge fan of the book. For one, as I mentioned previously, I grew up with the narrator and will keep growing. I read this book first when I was 13 and from then to now, I am 20—I have read the book atleast 7 times. In other words I grew with the narrator and she became my nameless friend. The way the book is written is very cinematographic. You can imagine, drifting through Manderlay, the expressions of the face to Frith the butler and see Mrs. Danver’s cold and archaic face. In short while reading, I am not merely a reader, I am the narrator. I know as a little as the narrator about the things happening around me. I am her and she is me. The book has many layers. Numerous aspects. You should definitely give it a read if you are fascinated with human behavior. You are sure to find a Rebecca, a Beatrice, a Max du Winter, a Mrs. Van hopper in your life.


Late night musing

Late night musing—the phrase holds a question. What is it about the night that encourages thought? We feel an ache—a familiar one. Like something pulling at one’s heart strings; tugging so hard that it hurts. We yearn for solace and comfort. We yearn for what the fool likes to call- home. For some of us, home is the cup of hot chocolate had with the dog asleep on the lap, listening to jazz. For some it may mean the long walks with dad. Some may consider their lover’s snore home. For some, it may be the open sky and for some it is their nightly ritual of a phone call to mom and granny. But for the fool, home is concrete. For folks like me, who have no home, my cup of hot chocolate, my dog, my long walks with dad and my phone call to mom is home.

It is at this concluding period of the day that we yearn the most. We want to belong, we want to feel wanted. We want the tugging to stop. We want the warm blanket back around our heart. Even the worst of us roll in balls and clutch the pillow or the blanket tight- hope they magically turn into those people, those things we desire the most. What is it about the silence of the night that we hear our memories scream out vehemently at us? Make us question whether we are actually lonely or just scared of being alone. Why does the darkness scare us? Isn’t black just a mixture of all the colours. Why do we label the night the hour of the devil and desire?

My father says—things will look better in the morning? Why morning? Why not 3 am? Why can’t night be the new dawn? Why can’t the soul be happier at night? Just why?

Bangalore Diaries (Chapter 1- First Glimpse)

They say the soul of a city resides in its street. It has not been very long since i shifted to bangalore- just about a month or so. Being a typical north indian, my only encounter with the south is the few years i spend in hyderabad as a kid of four. My mind associates south india with women wearing gajras, spicy food, curd rice and a strange tongue. When the talks of my moving to this city started, i was a little apprehensive. I had heard a lot about Bangaluru– people called it the air conditioned city, the garden city, the brewery of india and so on. However, despite all the encouraging talks, the prospect of leaving my beloved kolkata was hard to digest. However with time, i warmed up to the idea.

My first impression of this city- like most others- came from the airport. Otherwise a little intimidating owing to its vastness, the airport came across as friendly and warm. The staff were welcoming and helpful folks who never lost patience despite me pestering them for my luggage which was last to be loaded on the conveyor belt.

For the past month, i have travelled around in this city mainly in the public transport– buses and autos. The locals, wearing their perpetual smile, are a treat, especially at 6 am when the eyes are heavy with sleep and the mind is just getting used to the fact that it is a new day.

I found a friend in an old gentlemen who boards the same bus as me at Spice Garden and gets off a little after Domlur. We just exchange a smile, a ‘Good morning’ and a ‘Have a nice Day’. Maybe our friendship will be limited to this, but finding a friend so easily can only happen in this city I guess.

In time, I will come to admire this city more. But at the moment, I am content with the fact that the city welcomed me with open arms and gave me smiling faces from early in the morning into the wee hours of the night.

The Evolution of English as a Language

English—the first global ‘lingua franca’, the most widely spoken language and the third largest native language after Mandarin and Spanish—surprisingly has neither a script to call its own nor the purity boasted of by other languages such as French and Malayalam. In order to understand the origin of this language, we need to turn back a few pages of our history books and revisit the past.

We travel back to 55 and 54 BC, Rome. A young man with the name Julius Caesar set sail for the unknown territories up north and discovered vast stretches of land which he referred to as ‘Albion’ (from the Latin word ‘Albus’ meaning white) owing to the white cliffs of Dover visible from the sea. The then inhabitants of this foreign land—the Celts, led by the lady warrior Boudica—offered resistance to his attacks by pushing boulders down the cliffs and destroying the huge Roman ships in the process. Caesar retreated to his country but came back the next summer with repaired ships. A man who learned from his mistakes, he entered Albion through a river estuary and this time he obliterated his enemies. This was the beginning of Roman Britain.

Skipping a few pages of history, we stop at 450 AD- the decline of the Roman Empire. This was the period which saw the movement of tribes across Britain and Europe. The Anglo Saxons, a tribe native to the region covering Germany and Denmark, shifted their base to Britain. The Franks, another Germanic tribe moved to Gaul and overthrew the Romans. The native Celts were pushed to the west (a region that speaks Welsh to this date). Around 600 AD, this region was dominated by the Anglo Saxons and called ‘Englaland’ or land of the Angles. This was when the evolution of the English language started—from its roots in Anglo Saxon (also known as Old English). Even today, Anglo Saxon and English share common words.

Moving ahead to 1066 AD, a Frank king by the name William the Conqueror, also known as William the Bastard, led a military invasion on Englaland. His ancestors hailed from Normandy and he spoke Norman as a result of which the administration of the new government was handled in Norman (modern French). The mixing of Anglo Saxon and Norman gave rise to what we know as ‘Middle English,’ a period which saw the rise of authors such as Geoffrey Chaucer.

The 1400s gave rise to early modern English which was a period of the Great Vowel Shift. It was further transformed by the spread of standardized London-based dialect. In 1604, the first English dictionary was published—the Table Alphabeticall. With the spread of the British Empire, the English language spread all across the globe and was influenced by the local languages and dialects of the British colonies. Overtime, it picked up words from other languages and became what it is today—a mode of communication for majority of the world.

For a language which borrows its script from the Romans—the same as Latin—it has made tremendous progress through the centuries. A ‘mongrel tongue’ lacking purity and heavy with pollution, it is indeed a funny language where there is a mismatch between the way a word is written and the way it is spoken. Despite having its constraints, it has done well for itself by adapting with changing times and molding itself according to the needs of the people.

The Trip of a Lifetime….

October, 2013

I took a ferry ride from Anacortez, a quaint little port town in the state of Washington to Fisherman’s creek, the port of a small, not so well known island called San Juan. San Juan is situated on the waters of the Salish Sea, between the Coast of Washington and British Columbia. The month long visit to the magnificent state of Washington was my mother’s gift to me for completing 18 years on this earth without getting myself into too much of trouble. The island runs on lavender cultivation and farming—mostly the Alpaca farm and other staples. It is a favorite with the whale watchers and has an untouched forest reserve which one can visit to have a rough idea of how the earth was before the humans ravaged it.

On this 2 hour long ferry ride, I met a couple—in their mid-60s who were making the trip with their dog Lassy. Lassy was a big old St. Bernard who had been with the family for ‘as long as they could remember’. I was standing on the deck of an otherwise empty ferry watching the pristine blue waters, the hillocks surrounding the bay and listening to the call of the occasional sea gull which came our way to rest on the sail, when the lady came up to me with Lassy and got talking.

The hour long discussion ranged from topic to topic and was a surprisingly effortless one, considering that I found it hard to decipher their accent and they- mine. After we covered the basics, I found that this couple had been together for 45 years. They had met in high school, went to the same college and got married after. They had no kids—just a series of highly unlikely pets, ranging from Tod the boa to Bambi the deer and currently Lassi the dog. Their life was a fairly simple one—they worked through the week and visited the island in the weekend. They were happy. When they asked me what my plans were for the future—I told them I wanted to travel the world; see all that there was to be seen. The lady smiled and said—but you do realise that you can’t possibly see everything; there will be somethings left to be seen and if you hurry, you miss out on seeing what you have and where you are. None the less she wished me luck for my future endeavors. Thereafter we disembarked the ferry and went our own ways.

San Juan was an experience I will never forget. Every detail is clear in my head. When I think about it, I can smell the salt in the air, taste the fish and chips of the Rocky bay café, feel the pebbles on the beach, the texture of the alpaca fur and see the lavender ripe for harvest in the farm. During sunset, if you wait patiently for the right moment, you can see the fleeting purple glow over the lavender farm. Those 2 days, I was euphoric and all my thought of travelling the world were gone. I would be content to just stay there. On my way back, I met them while waiting for the ferry to arrive. The lady asked me how I enjoyed and I told her that I had a great time and I would be content to just stay there for the rest of my life.

She smiled and congratulated me for seeing. They were going back to Seattle for the week, but they would be back the following weekend. That was when I envied them. They had known peace and satisfaction. They knew a lot despite having travelled to just one place for the last 60 years. They had seen and valued what was in front of them. Today, I wonder whether I will ever be able understand her smile when she boarded the ferry with her husband and dog…even after I have travelled to all the places I wish to.