No Onion Nor Garlic – Srividya Natarajan

16 Feb

I attempted this one more out of compulsion, so that P did not crib about her failed attempts to make me read Seven Ancient Wonders by Matthew Reilly. By the fourth page even the mallu on the PA system saying, “Ladies and gendlemen,  flight number won, seero, seero….. from Chennai to Baaingaluur”….. could not distract me. I have not giggled as much in a long time.

I can almost picture Srividya grinning and chuckling away while she typed out the manuscript, she must have had so much fun writing this one. Here is a novel that was not written for Bookers or other awards, but just because the author had a great story to tell and not to say it would have been painful. Pay heed Amitav Ghosh and Aravind Adiga.

Set in Chennai, the novel centres around the glories and travails of Professor Pattabhiraman aka Professor Ram, the guardian of art, culture and the purity of the Brahmin way of life. The plot is simple and  is centred around the proposed weddings of his children – the obnoxious Chunky and the fiery Jay with Sundar and his sister Uma.  There is the sub plot of the elections in the Chennai University which Prof Ram wants to win at any cost.  In terms of characterisation Prof Ram stands out and so does Sachu, Sundar’s mother. The other players are not as well defined; they include Sundar, the reluctant; Uma, of the dark skin curse; Jiva, the accomplished dalit girl, and Jay the headstrong.

The language is at once the strength and the weakness of the novel. It will go down very well with people who are used to typical tamil lingo and therefore is a limitation for the larger audience. The lingo is funny, colloquial and authentic and you just have to get it first up, it cannot be explained. Other authors provide an appendix and try to explain vernacular words –  its like eating an exotic dish and then asking the chef what went into it. Besides how many people actually flip over pages and read up the meanings. The narrative is gripping and is in second person, and in a delightful twist, the identity of the narrator is revealed only at the end. At several places she addresses the reader and that makes it more direct. The climax which is a satire on Kollywood is done well too.   

Though written in a slapstick style, Srividya conveys several serious and haunting issues through her novel. She deals with the caste system, the corruption in the academic circles, the unscrupulous builder – bureaucracy nexus. And here she scores over most other writers who have no message to convey.  

If there is a talent that Srividya should be credited with, it is her gift of observation. She makes some amazing descriptions that shows a heightened sense of detail, for example the tea boy’s fingers being three fourths inside the glass when he clasps the glasses, buckets lined up for the water lorry, the lingo used by different characters. 

While one accepts that comedy is serious business and Srividya does a great job, one has to point out  that in her effort to be consistently funny, Srividya gets too verbose at several places.

 An advice to my fellow bloggers Padma and Karthik, guys please try and read this one if you haven’t already. This one is right up your alley.


Posted by on February 16, 2009 in Recommended


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13 responses to “No Onion Nor Garlic – Srividya Natarajan

  1. Anonymous

    November 27, 2014 at 10:45 pm

    Just finished reading this book. Wonderfully funny.

  2. Sindhu

    November 19, 2009 at 7:52 am

    I love this book! It’s funny, interesting and well-suited to Indian audiences.
    I’m really in love with the Akilan character.
    Hats off to the author for this story!!!

    • davematt

      November 19, 2009 at 10:45 am

      I think this one easily ranks as one of the best comical novels I have read in a long time.

  3. Mini

    April 19, 2009 at 10:35 pm

    If any of you know where t oget this book, please let me know!

    It is not available in the US.

  4. Shoe Girl

    February 23, 2009 at 8:15 am

    now thats a book i wanna pick up… perhaps i’ll have to call my Tamil friends for ref on words

    • davematt

      February 23, 2009 at 8:20 am

      Send them my way SG, I will try and translate it 🙂

  5. Poorani

    February 17, 2009 at 4:57 am

    Matt, i am sure P is very very happy! 🙂

    • davematt

      February 17, 2009 at 5:14 am

      One tries 🙂

  6. padmajav

    February 17, 2009 at 3:52 am

    I’ve read this one! Almost two years ago. Enjoyed it thoroughly!! 🙂

    • davematt

      February 17, 2009 at 4:02 am

      Great 🙂

  7. Karthik S

    February 16, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Damn, I’ve been looking for this book for a week now – checked last in Crossword in Garuda Mall – no luck. Need to look harder!

    • davematt

      February 17, 2009 at 3:07 am

      Ask and you shall receive 🙂


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