Friday, April 24, 2015

Reading with Imagination

I used to be able to compartmentalize my time a little better amidst my errands and commitments. There were some bad days when I could not get my acts together but most days, between my work schedule and my domestic responsibilities, I was  able to fit in the work out, be it yoga, gym or tennis and also reading, watching movies and hanging out with friends. 

These days multi tasking seems to be a thing of the past, mind is feeling the weight of things and rising  sense of urgency makes it hard to  prioritize rationally. I must acknowledge that  with the onset of years, gone are the days when I could just pick up anything to read and plonk myself down without my reading glasses.  If I add up the time taken in  the past one year  when I  had to walk the steps to pick up my spectacles from wherever I  have left them, I could have  read a couple more books.

In this electronic age, if you think that things are getting more efficient due to computerization, in truth, it is not if you examine the overall scheme of things where the infrastructure is lacking. One thing that definitely takes up quite a bit of time in my daily life is looking for a park and spending time  on the road getting from one destination to another. 
Yesterday morning  after circling for some twenty minutes trying in vain to find a park around the court house , I  left my car  by the side of the road just across the street from the court house. I then felt terribly uneasy so I  told my opponent  that I needed to shift my car as it had been parked illegally. “ I should not chance it, ” I said to him. Instead of hurrying along, I  decided to use the washroom at the court house. On my way out, I met my client. After  a quick exchange with him, I suddenly felt the urgency. At the very moment when I was about to step onto the street, I caught a glimpse of the traffic officer who rode away from my car on his motorcycle. Too late. The  green sheet of paper  was  already tucked below the window wiper.  It was a mere delay of five  minutes all because I had been distracted. I was displeased primarily because I had not followed through my hunch. On reflection, the incident was  nonetheless a good way to jolt me  into focusing on the trial ahead and  feeling vengeful  might have  paved the way for merciless cross-examination of the witness.

While “Bring up the Bodies” is about the fall of Anne Boleyn , in telling a gripping story of terror during the Tudor age,  Hilary Mantel  focuses on portraying Thomas Cromwell as a ruthless, brutal and crafty minister. Cromwell was born a violent blacksmith’s son from Putney and he ran away from his hometown only to return 27 years later as a lawyer.  He is certainly not a sentimentalist and not a man with whom one can have inconsequential conversations. King Henry VIII  is getting disenchanted with Anne Boleyn as she has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. The King now has eyes for the demure Jane Seymour thus his loyal master secretary, Cromwell plots to bring Anne Boleyn down  after having failed in his attempts to negotiate a voluntary dissolution of the marriage between Henry and Anne. Although Cromwell is aware that not all the evidence against the Queen and those who are being tried are true, he has to protect his own position and do what is necessary to serve Henry the king. The novel also gives a ghastly account of how Cromwell seizes the opportunity to hound and kill all those privileged courtiers and aristocrats to  avenge the humiliating treatment of his beloved master, the late Cardinal Wolsey.

This is how Cromwell is described by  Mantel in her novel.
Thomas Cromwell is now about fifty years old. He has a labourer’s body, stocky, useful, running to fat. He has black hair, graying now, and because of his pale impermeable skin, which seem designed to resist rain as well as sun people sneer that his father was an Irishman, though really he was a brewer and a blacksmith at Putney, a shearsman too, a man with a finger in every pie, a scrapper and brawler, a drunk and a bully, a man often hauled before the justices for punching someone, for cheating someone. How the son of such a man has achieved his present eminence is a question all Europe asks. Some says he came up with the Boleyns, the queen’s family. Some say it was wholly through the late Cardinal Wolsley, his patron; Cromwell was in his confidence and made money for him and knew his secrets. Others say he haunts the company of sorcerers. He was out of the realm from boyhood, a hired soldier, a wood trader , a banker. No one knows where he has been and who he has met, and he is in no hurry to tell them. He never spares himself in the king’s service, he knows his worth and merits and makes sure of his reward: offices, perquisites and title deeds, manor houses and farms. He has a way of getting his way, he has a method;he will charm a man or bribe him, coax him or threaten him, he will explain to a man where his true interests lie, and he will introduce that same man to aspects of himself he didn’t know existed. Every day Master Secretary deals with grandees who, if they could, would destroy him with one vindictive swipe, as if he were a fly. Knowing this , he is distinguished by his courtesy, his calmness and his indefatigable attention to England’s business. He is not in the habit of explaining himself. He is not in the habit of discussing his successes. But whenever good fortune has called on him, he has been there, planted on the threshold, ready to fling open the door to her timid scratch on the wood.

At home in his city house at Austin Friars, his portrait broods on the wall; he is wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it. Hans had pushed a table back to trap him and said, Thomas ,you mustn’t laugh; and they had proceeded on that basis, Hans humming as he worked and he staring ferociously into the middle distance. When he saw the portrait finished he had said, ‘Christ I look like a murderer; and his son, Gregory said, didn’t you know? ‘

Mantel wrote, ‘He has helped them to their new world, the world without Anne Boleyn, and now they will think they can do without Cromwell too. They have eaten his banquet and now they will want to sweep him out with the rushes and the bones. But this was his table: he runs on the top of it, among the broken meats. Let them try to pull him down. They will find him armoured, they will find him entrenched, they will find him stuck like a limper to the future. He has laws to write, measures to take, the good of the commonwealth to serve, and his king; he has titles and honours still to attain, houses to build, books to read, and who knows, perhaps children to father, and Gregory to dispose in marriage. It would be some compensation for the children lost, to have a grandchild. He imagines standing in a daze of light, holding up a small child so the dead can see it .’

 Once again history reminds us not to trust the  politicians and those at the helm. The novel has taken me much time to finish reading as Mantel’s prose needs concentration and a moment’s distraction, I have to start the page and re-read it again.

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