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Review: Lolita by Vladminir Nabokov

October 14, 2015

Picked this one in sale in a mall bookshop in the city only because the cover said, ‘A masterpiece, One of the great works of art of our age – Independent.’ Wouldn’t have, had i had a clue.

A very sickening story of incest, pedophilia that leaves you with a kind of low feeling. I am from the generation where fathers would not even touch daughters – not like today when dads hug to bosom their princesses and rain kisses. Once we crossed into the stage of puberty, fathers and brothers became like strangers to us. I don’t remember my father even looking me in the eye. All physical touch stopped with 8-9 years. Daughters are celebrated in our families. And we are generally guarded in our approach when it comes to any third person male naturally given the distance we keep even with the other sex cousins and uncles who could be blood-related. It is therefore shocking to me these days to read about rapes in the north. Now its happening even in Bangalore. A few cases of little girls in nursery classes getting molested or raped within school campuses is not only revolting but absolutely jolting to our senses. What abominable creatures would want to harm kids.

Navaratri is on with Mahalaya Amavasya observed the day before by millions of devotees around the country. During Navratri, we believe the trinity of Hindu goddesses Lakshmi (of wealth & fortune), Saraswathi (of knowledge & wisdom) and Parvathi (Shakthi – the source of strength & valour) come to reside together in our homes. Navratri is essentially a celebration of womanhood. The 10th day aptly caps the festivities with Vijayadashami – the ultimate Durga puja. Durga/Ma Kali is the destroyer of evil.

What is special about Navratri is, even if we give haldi/kumkum to sumanglis (married women with husbands), it is more special for Kanya girls. Kanyas are little girls under 12-13 who have still not matured. Giving them clothes or bangles or anything to eat is supposedly good. Goddess Lakshmi is supposed to embody Herself in each and every one of them. In my street temple, we invite these pretty angels, bangle them, do the haldi-kumkum ceremony as if they are the very goddesses and give them gifts.  ‘Pada Puja’ done to the feet of one’s parents during our wedding ceremony is performed for the little goddesses. This is the respect our culture has for girl children really. I remember hopping home to home for golu (arrangement of dolls in stalls/stairs is in practice during Navratri in the south)… in that pre-pubescent (a term borrowed from Humbert) age, when my mom was still around… Upto my 12th-13th year I was treated like a queen in the festival season! How many gifts, dresses, and sweets to eat!! Because in this age, girls are purest, unadulterered and virgin.

My heart goes out to the little girl Lolita in the book even if she could be only a fictional character… What a beast Humbert was. Height of perversion! Must have been terribly sick in the mind… (that he was)…

This is why I understand now, how when we were young, we were always cautioned against males – any male. Even a slight acquaintance used to be frowned upon. I grew up in a very conservative setting where not even male scent was welcome. My early strict upbringing stood me in good stead when I was on my own in the absence of my parents…  (Thank god, some of us girls (in our condition) found safe havens. Think of the girls in orphanages… No wonder there are reports of rapes and other crimes committed against these poor helpless creatures by the very authority they are entrusted with for protection… There have been cases of pedophilia reported even from some orphaned children’s homes in the outskirts of the city – where the victims have been little boys as well. Brings to my mind a European arrested in Mahabalipuram for his heinous amorous activities with fishermen’s poor boys in the coast, bribing them with chocolates. The sea-side resort town is popular with foreign tourists exactly for this reason. The same way Sri Lanka and Thailand are. Shame. Many orphanages dot the tourist village sponsored by local or foreign churches who exploit the defenceless who have none to turn to. We only have to google to find out how many sex offenders are there in churches in Chennai who likewise abuse orphaned kids. Surprisingly these news never make to our sickular media.

We come across 1 or 2 rare news that make it to the press  but given how so very unsavoury they are and how they hurt our conscience, we tend to forget them.

I don’t have a daughter so I have not really given much thought to this kind of thing for long. My friends I recall used to caution their daughters even when they were in KG. Schools do their part teaching little girls to be safe right from junior kinder-garten. Still one of my friends used to quiz her daughter – like who all should NOT touch her. ‘Tell me if anyone be it your father, grandfather or uncle or brother touches you here … and here’ she would point to her daughter’s private parts. I was amazed but she told me, ‘you will do it too if you have a daughter yaar!’ Yeah, I can understand.  Bringing up a daughter is not easy. Protecting little girls from roaming wolves is very serious and difficult business. Parents have a reason to be concerned.

The only good thing about the book is, the perpetrator of such a ghastly crime, atleast feels remorse towards the end. How a childhood is deprived, destroyed so ruthlessly, cunningly totally numbed me. And until now I cannot fathom out how anyone would want to do anything with children that way. Daughters are so precious…

There are no words to explain the horror I felt when I read, the man in his 40s was planning to marry young Lolita and have access to little Lolitas born off her – for a lifetime supply of ‘nymphets.’ The Austrian maniac who held his daughter captive in basement for decades with children born out of incest…. what a shame…. but was he inspired by ‘Lolita?!’

One more thing comes to my mind. Had a Delhi friend, a divorcee. She was posting pictures of her 8-9 year old daughter in bikinis taken in Goa in Facebook. I messaged her that she should change her ways. Her male colleagues had posted comments ranging from ‘sexy! ‘ to ‘little seductress!’ that I found utterly disgusting. Even little girls have dignity. And parents, including mothers, have no right to display their daughters like this without their consent. That cost our friendship. One photo showed the sweet lassie lying on a mat spread-eagled with a bare back showing. And that invited a host of vulgar comments from men of all ages. I wonder why no man can picture his own daughter(s) in other girls/women.

(Even though we were raised in a very tight circle with traditional values back then, we girls still grew up into bold and defiant women who could take on the world. A sari pallu or a dupatta or a bindi or ultra-conservative upbringing need not have to chain our moral courage, mental strength. Sometimes I feel the world is misled that convent education and jeans & tee and jazz & rock music and other western tastes of sophistication including junk food habit are the marks of modern progressive women. Why cannot culture and  progress co-exist. It has for centuries in Indian history.)

Girls come home all the time semi-clad, at the same time what I am seeing in city girls today is a steely strength and power that I have come to like and respect. As a parent I have to act my part sometimes but girls dropped us back from airport at 4 am after we gave send-off to our son. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder with boys, drove their own cars. All of them are high-achievers. Every single one of them is chiseled to a unique perfection and specialty. This is how my city is today. Girls are upbeat and highly ambitious and strong. I reckon, the clothes now symbolize ‘generation gap.’ Even the hugging. Average urban Indian Nari has come a long way since the old fashioned ’80s. But to reach such an age and stage, a girl must first blossom in a healthy enriching environment where a sense of safety and security and trust in humanity are lovingly nourished. Family and friends play a vital role in developing and  molding a bold and articulate woman with a strong character. The pervert admits to himself no tennis lesson in the world could give back the listless Lolita what she had surrendered/lost. Lolita does fizzle out into a weakling but she has her horrific reasons. Her stubborn refusal to return to the hell called Ramsdale speaks something of her. How she removes and detaches herself from a painful miserable abnormal past and deigns to address the man again as ‘daddy’ touches my heart. The innocence has got to do with her age, inspite of the harm inflicted on her body and mind at a very vulnerable and tender phase of her life.

Its most annoying when the madman assumes at times parental responsibilities with a view perhaps that he can pay back in a way what he robbed of the girl: her innocence. Tennis coaching for one thing.  It is sickening everytime she calls him ‘dad.’ The classic part is when he says towards the end how she withdraws in resignation watching a little boy and his father hug one day in those terrible 2 years. Lolita minces no words when it comes to accusing her step-father of rape and even of murdering her mother in the extreme. Many times she calls him ‘brute’ especially the first time she is violated by the beast – something i doubt whether a mature woman’s body can endure without damage. Literally cried at this spot.

Quilty need not have died. He after all rescued Lolita. Had the subject been different, I would have enjoyed the cross-country tour of USA but everytime the psycho switched to a different motel in a different part of the country I was further dismayed. Left out a lot of gory details, unwilling to dwell on ugly things.

At best we can take the book as a lesson. Sometimes I wonder, if this is the reason re-marriage is not allowed/or in vogue in Hindu society. The step-father. I have seen many pictures of evil step-fathers but this one takes the cake. In all others, the men are serial-killers or a different kind of maniac. Never this. For that matter, re-marriage for even men is rare in my society but of late picking up. If not for anything, there is nothing wrong about finding someone for companionship.

A girl without a mother is at the mercy of everyone and anyone who she comes across in life, just ask me! But I had a wonderful gang of friends whose parents were like my own. Who cared for me, who monitored me. I think I have even consulted my girlies about a couple of guys who were interested in me (despite my pathetic conditions of those days)… but my friends said a big ‘NO’ and i trusted their judgement over mine. It helped. The place I grew up was not a cold one the way Lolita’s society was.  In lower middle-class homes like ours, everybody’s business in everybody else’s business. It is a good protection for insecure children. Many aunties substitute for one mother gone. Many grannies poke their nose to question you why you’re late from school or college. Your neighbour might even ask you to don the dupatta!!!

Its better being labeled a snob than becoming a victim or being taken advantage of. I developed a ‘censor’ – like the 7th sense and was always on alert. Had my share of nasty people not denying.  The trick lies in creating a safe circle, eliminating chances of risk, avoiding bothersome situations.  Little Lolita must have cultivated good friendships. Trustworthy relationships. May be the fault also lies with her mother Charlotte.  We must have someone to confide our worst fears in. That kind of care, kindness and affection would have saved the poor girl. After all before the madman entered her world, she was rooted to a place, had a routine and structured life. It must have been possible to cultivate good, solid relationships. How indifferent her neighbours seem.

Lots of new words and phrases in the book from another era. May be this is the reason the book is called a masterpiece of fiction – for its literary value.  I wanted to get a pencil to underscore many words but somehow lost the initiative. Got to do with the heavy subject. The French invasion was irritating. I wish Lolita had lived longer to negate the gross injustice inflicted upon her when she was such an innocent, cherubic child. She had had inherited to live a comfortable or atleast modest life. She could have made good her emotional losses and psychological scars at some point of time. Time has a way of healing. It’s never easy to forget, but forgiving is not impossible and comes with maturity over years. A bouncy energetic girl like Lolita is any parent’s dream. I am aware of the temper-tantrums characteristic of her age. Boys have it too. Its a phase, but its nice!

I don’t wish to linger upon this topic for any longer, after all Navratri starts now… Let’s forget all that’s dirty and nasty and dream of a sunny bright world… It so happens the hindi film ‘Talvar’ has also hit the silver screens very recently… May be there is a shred of connection here… I doubt if I want to see the film but reviews are good. Let’s see. One more work on crime against a little girl is bound to leave us with a bitter after-taste…




This happened to a little boy: He was in KG, was a hyper-active bubbly boy but started coming home suddenly pulling a long face. The school bus came to their compound to pick up kids. The boy would get down in the noon from the bus and walk up the stairs to his flat on his own. On being questioned, he told his mom, the security in his apartment block daily asked him to down his shorts for a moment before allowing him to go up to his home. The boy was hardly 5 then still he knew it was not right. And in spite of being a mischievous brat, he did hesitate for a while telling his mom what troubled him. Shows how shy kids are and how they know by instinct when something goes awry. After a complaint was made, the security was sacked right on the spot. Goes on to show, little boys are safe neither.

I would still recommend this book to mothers and daughters (under 17-18).

From → Books

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