Tag Archives: Kerala

How Cyrus Mistry weaves hope into The Prospect of Miracles

Book review by Namrata

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Title: The Prospect of Miracles

Author: Cyrus Mistry

Published by: Aleph Book Company, 2019

 

The Prospect of Miracles revolves around the life of Pastor Pius Philipose or rather, his death. Interestingly, in this long-awaited novel, author Cyrus Mistry’s primary character is a dead man. His seemingly natural death is perceived as unexpected to his adorners while his wife experiences the opposite. The rest of the story is about what everyone including his wife think of him.

Mistry — the novelist, needs no introduction. His novel Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature in 2014 while his other works have also won many awards and accolades. However, it must be noted that this is the first time, he has moved beyond writing about the Parsi community. Almost all his previous works revolved around the culture, with primary characters also being Parsi. His early works were clear reflection of all his observations of growing up as a Parsi in Mumbai. Few years ago, he moved to a non-descript location in South India which seems to have largely inspired him to write this story.

Set in Kerala, the story has the fragrances of that state neatly wrapped within. From lush cardamom farms, to the coconut trees swinging in the air. From the delectable flavours of the local delicacies cooked in coconut oil to the festive celebrations throughout the year — this story has it all in the backdrop while the core story unravels for the reader. While talking about the culture and traditions of Kerala, he also talks about the oppression and the staunch belief system prevalent there.

Reading Cyrus Mistry’s work is like walking through years of patriarchy prevalent in our society. Clearly reminiscent of one the many characters from Anita Nair’s literary gem Ladies Coupe, this book promises to leave a reader perplexed. With a complex array of characters and a non-symmetrical plot line, Mistry invites you in a world which is so similar to the real world and yet so different. Read more

All is well? Journalism in Singapore through the eyes of a Reluctant Editor

By Mitali Chakravarty

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Title: Reluctant Editor

Author: PN Balji

Publisher: Marshall Cavendish, 2019

 

The Reluctant Editor has a forward by the prominent Singaporean lawyer and diplomat, Professor Tommy Koh, which tells us that the author, P N Balji “is one of Singapore’s veteran newspaper journalists and editors, and a very good one”. The narrative is not just an account of the Singapore media seen through the eyes of a veteran journalist as stated obviously on the book cover, but also a quick sketch of a man who is introverted and self-effacing.

We do not find the author talk much of himself or his work, but he does give an extensive report on the media history from the early 1970s to the early 2000s in Singapore, including episodes like the Toh Chin Chye case, where a false allegation was made in a newspaper report on an ex-minister of Singapore. PN Balji had been in editorial positions in The Straits Times (ST), The New Paper (TNP) and the founding Editor-in-Chief of Today.

The historic evolution of all the newspapers in Singapore and the government’s involvement in monitoring the media is clearly spelt out — even to the point of deciding what kind of newspapers were necessary for communicating with people. Described as a “brash” newspaper, The New Paper was started to bridge the gap between those who read and comprehended the one hundred and seventy-one-year-old newspaper, The Straits Times, and the people who don’t understand the ST. The New Paper was started to “speak the language of blue-collar workers”. A tabloid and later a morning daily, it needed a set of different writing skills as Professor Koh tells us in the foreword. His article in simple English had to be rewritten by the editor to make it comprehensible for the readers of TNP. Read more

Short Story: For Chikki’s Sake by Anjana Balakrishnan

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“Chikki called in the morning,” Amma begins, seated at the dining table.

Dinner conversations at home have always been severely orchestrated, progressing into a chaotic crescendo. It always begins with the most neutral subject, me. And usually Achan sits silent, regarding his food with empirical interest. He is on standby for his cue.

“She’s had fever for two days now,” Amma continues.

“Has she been taking medicines? Ask her not to self- medicate.”

“Why would she self-medicate?”

“Alla, isn’t that what everyone in your family does?” Achan asks.

“I’ll be grateful if Chikki doesn’t inherit your arrogance.”

“You should be grateful if she turns out like me,” Achan responds grimly. “God forbid she becomes like you.”

Silence. Read more

Celebrating O.V. Vijayan’s classic, ‘The Legends of Khasak’

(From The Hindu by E.V. Ramakrishnan. Link to the complete article given below)

This year marks the eve of the 50th anniversary of the publication of O.V. Vijayan’s novel Khasakkinte Ithihasam (published as The Legends of Khasak in English in 1994).

First serialised in a literary weekly and subsequently published as a book in 1969, it still marks the highest point scaled by any Malayalam novelist in terms of intensity of vision and inventiveness of language. It narrates how Ravi, who lands in Khasak to set up a government school, is gradually sucked into its archaic charm, its tales and vibrant ways of life.

As Kerala reels from the after-effects of an unprecedented deluge, revisiting an iconic text that questioned our notions of modernity may not be inappropriate. Vijayan’s was a dissenting critical voice that reclaimed the fundamental role of the novel as a counter-narrative. Having suffered a loss of faith, he plumbed the depths of his inner resources by exploring the limits of language. Vijayan reinvented the form of the novel for a new generation, investing it with intractable questions of ethics that exceeded the formalist concerns of aesthetics.

Beyond language

Vijayan had serious misgivings about the way modernity produced and legitimated knowledge that met with uncritical acceptance. What happens to forms of knowledge that lie outside its institutional spaces? Khasak was about the imaginative apprehension of an order of reality that lay beyond language. Eduardo Kohn (author of How Forests Think) has argued that we need to go beyond language to see how the environment thinks through us.

Read more at The Hindu link here

Who is S. Hareesh?

(From The Hindu. Link to the complete article given below)

As Kerala’s paddy-rich Kuttanad reels under its worst flood in recent times, the region’s most promising storyteller is fighting a deluge of religious hate. Award-winning writer S. Hareesh, whose stories are imbued with an undertone of caste and politics at play in daily life, withdrew his debut novel, Meesha (Moustache), barely into its third instalment in the Mathrubhumi weekly, after some right-wing groups did not take kindly to a “misrepresented” fragment in it. On Wednesday, the novel was published by DC Books, the premier imprint in Malayalam, with 5,000 copies selling out. That did not pass off uneventfully though, as copies were burnt in Thiruvananthapuram. The case has reached the Supreme Court, too; on Thursday, it asked counsel for the petitioner to produce within five days the English translation of the “objectionable” portions.

Why the controversy?

A conversation between two characters on the intent of upper caste women visiting temples in the narrative set in the feudal Kerala of yore was taken out of context and circulated on social media, imputing it to the author. A vilification campaign ensued, as Hindutva organisations and caste groups trained their ire on Mathrubhumi and the writer for “maligning Hindu women and temple priests.” In the face of threats and online abuse, also targeting their parents and young children, Mr. Hareesh and his wife shut down their social media accounts and switched off phones.

Read more at The Hindu link here

Lizardology: The Future is Writ

Indian literature, like India, is a combo. There are many Indian literatures. The Sahitya Akademi has 24 languages listed for its top awards. Another 35 or so come up for a different set of honours. There are more awaiting their turn to enter the Akademi’s list. I wonder how many Indians are aware that they live in a country blessed with 60 and more living literatures. Those who sing the praise of India hardly sing about the literary abundance. Perhaps no other nation in the world has so many literatures to enthral them. Not that literature has a place in the big picture. For, of what use is it to those who run nations? They notice it only when it comes in their way. Or when a bigot wants to ban a book. Actually, it is best not to be noticed at all. You never know what the politicians might see in literature. They can twist it into a weapon for mass destruction of minds. Every totalitarianism does it. Or they silence it with censorship—or by hounding and killing.

What is interesting is that each Indian literature pursues its own destiny. Each has a different past and present. These are intimately tied to the evolution and growth of the cultures the literatures represent and give expression to. Malayalam literature cannot but be an output of the Malayali ethos, even in its most dissenting or rebellious moments. Read more

 

The wilderness library

At 73, P.V. Chinnathambi runs one of the loneliest libraries anywhere. In the middle of the forested wilderness of Kerala’s Idukki district, the library’s 160-books — all classics — are regularly borrowed, read, and returned by poor, Muthavan adivasis.

It’s a tiny tea-shop, a mud-walled structure in the middle of nowhere. The hand-written sign on plain  paper pinned to the front,  reads: Read more

Kith and Kin: A Portrait of a Southern Indian clan

Kith and Kin

Kith and Kin

I have been trying to take a crack at Sheila Kumar’s collection of short stories Kith and Kin (Rupa, 2012) for a few months but without much success. In between, I read more than half of Howard Jacobson’s Zoo Time and then abandoned it—it didn’t seem to go anywhere. I returned his The Finkler Question unread to the library. I flitted from book to book, mostly nonfiction and even dabbled into Manto’s stories for a while. But I could barely finish a novel (managed to read three chapters of Buddenbrooks). And all this while, Kith and Kin, sitting on my bookshelf, excoriated me for being so fiendish and obtuse. I became my own nightmare.

Then I came across an opening, a mental pass, that offered me some redemption. Or it cut me some slack, if you go for the less dramatic.

I was travelling and I carried Kumar’s book to give it one more try. Luckily, this time the book yielded to me. Is the mind more receptive to new experiences when one is traveling at 30,000 feet above the ground? Is the airborne mind so tremulous with unexpected disasters that it is eager to absorb anything new? Anything that can distract the mind is a welcome absorption at that altitude.

During the two hours of flight time, I could read Kumar’s stories and enjoy some of them.

Kith and Kin contains 19 stories about the Melekat clan of Kerala. Ammini Amma is the matriarch of the clan and Mon Repos is the matriarch’s house in south Malabar. The various members of this clan— three generations of brothers and sisters and their grandchildren—inhabit different cities in India. This is a proud clan, with beauty running in the genes, but with some customary exceptions.

Through these stories, Kumar explores a range of human emotions, both carnal and spiritual and always with a touch of wit and humour. In Kingfisher Morning, for example, Sindhu’s affair with Deepender comes to an abrupt end when she finds out that he was two-timing with Seema, her own sister, in Delhi. There is even a slow-mo moment when this discovery takes place but instead of feeling blue after encountering her sister, Sindhu thinks of Seema’s hairy armpits. Deepender loathes women with hairy pits. “Hope Seema has done something about hers,” she contemplates.

Some stories in the collection end with a twist in the tale which feels contrived. In All Those Doors, Anita, a journalist, goes to interview a famous theatre and film actor—‘a thinking woman’s sex symbol’ who has retreated to the hills near Coimbatore. The interview goes very well and Anita imagines a life with this famous person—an opposite of the shallow Chetan, her boyfriend of two years.

As Anita leaves the house after the interview, the actor goes back into his house to surf kiddy porn. Some might think this is a clever ending but there is this sudden shift in the point of view which is jarring.

In these stories, Kumar shows her flair for comic writing. But this is not the sort of comic writing that reminds you of early Naipaul; nor does it display the chutzpah of Rushdie’s literary playfulness. 

To Kumar’s credit, she draws most scenes well and some of her passages are expertly well-written. However, her prose is overwrought at places and she barely exercises restraint, resulting in overexposing her characters. Also, there are far too many references to contemporary books, writers and film stars in these stories. It is possible that Kumar prefers Woody Allen over Hemingway. But all her stylistic choices mar an otherwise readable collection of short stories which could have been a deeper study of a Southern Indian clan. — Zafar Anjum