I know I am not going to gain too many friends with this review. I am a self-confessed fan of Anita Nair, but this book is definitely not one I would rate very high. I read a recent interview of Anita Nair about how Indian media is obsessed with obtuse authors. ‘It almost seems that a work has more gravitas if it’s obtuse. But the moment a book becomes accessible, it seems to lose value’. (http://churumuri.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/indian-media-is-obsessed-with-obtuse-authors/). I am not a fan of that type either but with Lessons, being accessible should be least of her concerns. It is too shallow.
The story is about Jak and Meera who go through their personal tragedies and trauma. Meera is a ‘corporate wife’ who is deserted by her husband Giri. Jak is a cyclone expert who moves to Bangalore to tend to his daughter Smriti rendered comatose after a brutal attack. The story is how they find solace in each other. Thats how simple it is. Though there are the long drawn sub plots – Meera – her husband Giri – children Nayantara and Nikhil – mother Saro – grand mother Lily. Jak also has his share – Smriti’s trauma – his wife Nita – aunt Kala – his parents. All these don’t seem to serve too much of a purpose and adds very little to the main plot. The narration is also staccato and distracting, and tends jump from one sub plot to the next (this was one device that Anita used to good effect in Ladies Coupe).
As for characterization, which is Anita’s strong point, the main characters are largely unidimensional. Going by the plot Meera – is a sensible woman, accustomed to corporate circles, a decent writer, a lady who has grown without the support of a father – should have been portrayed much stronger. However, she seems a stark contrast to that. She doesn’t know when and how Giri started distancing himself, she needs Vinnie, her friend’s counsel, she is led by Soman. She just doesn’t gell with the story. As for Jak, though he portrayed as a man going to lengths to uncover the truth behind Smriti’s fate, his actions are quite limp during his quest. The only fact that stands out is the novelty of his profession, we haven’t seen too many characters who are interpreters of cyclones. Smriti’s character built through narration from other actors’ point of view is interesting. The other notable character is probably Kala, Jak’s aunt with her symbolic burden of her tresses and her emancipation.
There are digressions like the Soman – Meera affair, Kala chithi and her battle to snip her locks, the Meera – Hera comparison, the one pagers on the weather. I believe that if you took them away, the plot would still be as good or bad. There was potential to build on the central theme of female infanticide which is largely lost. At the final count the story seems to say that women need men and marriage.
I don’t know if its irony but the title is true of the novel. I rate it 2 on 5.
(Published by HarperCollins)