Thursday 30 August 2018
It was not the Jews
whose racial weakness
infected the world,
it was the British.
The Jews in Egypt
were more or less
like everyone else:
some rich, some poor,
some good, some bad.
But the British
were uniformly arrogant,
greedy and vicious.
The Key Characters:
Alexander Wolff, the German spy.
William Vandam, General staff intelligence.
Elene Fontana, the courtesan of Egyptian Jewish origins.
Rommel, the German officer Wolff reports to.
Sonja,the exotic belly dancer.
Abdullah, the thief.
The best and worst part of this spy thriller is that the reader tends to root for the bad guy Wolff, the German spy. He is likable, his ability to squirm out of trouble that arrives at his doorstep at regular intervals is impressive. One feels sorry for him; his humane side that exhibits alternating fear, panic and calm in dire situations, reminds us that he is after all another human trying hard to stay strong, physically and mentally to serve his country. This is so well articulated that one cannot help feeling for his predicaments. It is useful to keep reminding oneself that he works for the Nazi side, reporting to Hitler. For a spy who is vigilant with his expertise, Wolff keeps getting almost caught by the authorities at regular intervals.
The cat-and-mouse game between Wolff and Vandam racing against time to manipulate the war and secure victory for their respective countries forms crux of the novel.
A motorbike chase where Vandam almost catches Wolff, is no less than a Hollywood thriller sequence. Vandam’s patience and expertise in cracking the code that is crucial to the outcome of the wars is riveting.
The other thrilling scene is the brilliant orchestrating of the theft of the briefcase containing secrets of the war plans of the British. Wolff working with Abdullah the thief, in perfect harmony despite the complete lack of trust or loyalty between them is absolutely enchanting.
Sonja is a fascinating character, with a dense history to match her beliefs, choice of loyalties and more interestingly, her quirky sexual fantasies. Her uninhibited dancing is a treat to experience, while her fantasies provide Wolff with much needed action in the bedroom.
Elene is rather boring until she proves her mettle, midway through the story. The way she overcomes her fears to risk her life for her country is commendable.
Each relationship between the characters is complicated and completely unpredictable, in a brilliant contribution to the suspense. The novel however has parts that are slow and boring, especially when the larger suspense looms in the background of the story.
It is somewhat necessary to show the reader how ruthless Wolff is, especially his utter lack of feeling towards Sonya or his ruthless treatment of Vandam’s little boy, perhaps because to soften the blow for the reader, who must ultimately accept that the villain has to meet with failure at the end.
Each character has strong reasons for the direction of their loyalties. The multiple plot twists are superbly infused in accordance with each character’s selfish motives, however minor the character may be.
Overall, a thrilling journey for readers who enjoy travelling over deserts, across cities with the characters to the period of WW2 in war ravaged Cairo.
Men generally treated her conversation like background music in a cocktail bar, pleasant enough but largely meaningless noise.
There was a certain amount of information Wolff could get by just walking around the city.
There was no artifice in her dancing, not any more, she was doing it for herself.
They did not understand. Nobody knew what it was for her, nobody knew what she went through every time she danced.
Hitler had the right idea but the wrong target, she believed. It was not the Jews whose racial weakness infected the world, it was the British. The Jews in Egypt were more or less like everyone else: some rich, some poor, some good, some bad. But the British were uniformly arrogant, greedy and vicious.
Her father made the family sit shiva for her. What is Shiva? He asked. “Mourning.”
For a while she had thought he might be different from all the rest, but she had been wrong. And she thought, ‘why do I mind so much?’
He could feel the fear pumping desperate strength into his arms.
Wolff felt as if the hunting pack had formed a circle around him, so that every way he ran, he came up against one of them, and the circle grew tighter every day.
Vandam thought about Sonja. He wondered from what source she had been drawing the strength to defy him…..then in the end she had allowed herself to explode, but even then she had used her fury not been controlled by it….not anger, not fear. It had been hatred. And her hatred had given her strength.
You see, this is the way I win. I mean, win everything…the game of life, so to speak. I am detached. I do care, but I refuse to do pointless things, symbolic gestures, empty fits of rage. Either we love each other or we don’t, and all the flowers in the world won’t make any difference.
None of them would help her…and women like camels, had to be beaten from time to time. Useless, impotent rage boiled within her.
plural noun: transvestites
The first realization: I was different.
I was a kid, around 6-7 years old. I used to play with street friends, cousins and my sister. I was the only guy among all those girls, so what we played were girly stuff like cooking, 'dress your doll', makeup and all such games.
I didn't even know what games the boys played. I only played girly games because I kind of liked them and enjoyed them.
That's how my childhood passed.
The first crush: A guy.
After class 5th, I went to boarding school. Living with so many guys and new faces was difficult for me but later I felt okay, because I got used to it.
But the major part was the comfort level. I never felt good living with them till a point in class 8th, when I met a junior guy & I found him attractive. I guess he also felt the same about me. We had a kind of relationship, but we were too small to understand what was going on (or what we were doing).
Later, during my vacations I used to come home. I liked wearing girls' dresses, because that's what I used to do before joining boarding school. But at that time, I didn't realize that I was used to it. (We always feel something when we lose it or after a long break).
But now I was not a kid anymore. Wearing girls' dresses in 8-9th standard wasn't childish.
That junior guy in my hostel later turned out to be 'straight' (or bi). But I never felt any attraction towards a girl, ever.
I liked and wanted to be a girl. All my habits were (and still are) girlish.
At a later point in time, I joined college. Of course, no one at home knew about me, about the kind of life I was going through.
I belong to a small town, where people aren't that open minded. I had a lot of family pressure, I still do.
In the first year of college, being a good looking & smart guy, I was approached by many girls. They used to talk to me a lot, listen to me and generally play around with me. I enjoyed the attention and liked it because I was used to it. But there was never any attraction or relationship between me and any girl.
At one point in time, I tried to conform to society norms and dated a girl. But that story lasted not more than 2.5 months, as she felt I did not take any interest in her but her clothes! I used to compliment her dresses, earrings, heels, etc. because that's all I ever notice and point out when I see a girl.
It was very lonely for some time when she left and no one was around to understand me. There was nobody with whom I could share my feelings.
It is absolutely difficult to find another guy like me, a gay guy, I mean. Obviously no one goes around with a signboard on their forehead that says 'I'm also gay'.
Confusion and clarity.
For many years I didn't even know I was gay. In fact I'm still confused.
What's the exact definition of 'gay'?
All I want is to be a girl. I just like being a girl. That's all I know.
Currently, in my whole life of 23 years, I have faced so much societal and familial pressure. I'm the only male child in my family.
But with whom shall I share this part of my life?
My parents are very orthodox people. They will never accept or face the fact that their only son is not 'normal' like other boys. They will never, ever accept the truth about me.
And, in future I don't know what I'm gonna do.
Taking small holidays away from home and living far from family won't work in the long term. I need to find a solution. Shifting to a foreign country may help. But I don't know.
Tension and Questions.
I’m facing a lot of tension, day by day.
So many questions eat me up everyday.
What will happen to me, my life?
Should I share this to someone, what will one think if he/she knows about it?
What if my parents ask me to marry some girl one day?
In addition to this, I have the daily-life tension of hiding my ladies' lingerie (satin and lace) within my room, way from others’ eyes. Obviously, I can't leave them in the bathroom or dry them on the terrace under sunlight.
I’m worried about my future.
What will I do now? How will my future turn out?
It is a good thing that India is changing, people are changing, they are accepting this issue. But at the same time some societies are not that broad-minded, and I belong to latter one.
I can write more. But I think this is enough for now.
(As told to the author, compiled over a period of time.
Published by the author with only grammar and punctuation edits, to retain the voice of the person)
Image courtesy: Barewalls Art Prints.