If one went by the title or the packaging, one could have easily missed this book. If you took a little trouble and pulled it off the shelf and read the blurb, you may take a chance. That’s what I did. Anjali Chandran launched this book in 2001 and I dont remember reading about it, must have slipped under the radar. It should have received better treatment, since it is not a bad effort at all.
Anagha moves to Kerala to escape her past. She comes to the Alanthur to get away from a life that borders on debauchery – including extra marital relationships, abortions, drinks, drugs, origies. Rebuilding and reclaiming the Alanthur mansion is a stop gap pretext for her to recoup and decide on life ahead. But Alanthur has dark secrets that tumble out much to her surprise and alarm. Just like the mansion that has hidden rooms and spaces Anagha looks inward and discovers things about herself as she goes about rebuilding Alanthur. While on the exterior she tries to adapt to the village living among them, making friends – Solomon, her emotional support; Nandu and Shailaja, who give her shelter; Lakshmi and Devi, her domestic help whom she rescues from poverty. And in the process of living and discovering, her life is altered in several ways – there is loss – Solomon, there is reconciliation – with her mother and there is the promise of a new life.
The symbol of rebuilding of the mansion plays out at two levels – rebuilding the past fame of the Alanthur family, Anagha’s coming to grips with herself and gaining self esteem which was thoroughly stamped out in Mumbai. The characterisation is weak except for the protagonist. In this one Anjali has excelled, Anagha is alarmingly direct, unafraid to take on adversaries and challenges, while at the same time she is endowed with a sense of humour. And these make her realistic and likeable. The others are bit players with not much to stand out. Her narrative has an edgy quality to it and is pretty interesting. However, when she gets into a descriptive mode – for instance on the of marumakkathayam or the references to religion; she gets boring and the narrative loses sheen. Also the ‘suspense’ is no suspense at all, one can figure it out pretty early in the story.
One the biggest issues with the book is to do with editing, there are errors on almost every second page. The other flaw is of course her use of Malayalam intended to give the narrative a local flavour. However, this falls flat as she makes glaring errors with her use of malayalam phrases.
The ‘return of the native’ kind of plot has been overdone, especially when it comes to Kerala. Anjali also falls into the same pitfalls whether it is to do with her snobbish commentary on life in Kerala, overdose of intellectual posturing or even the way she has used the language.
However, I will still say it is worth a read.
(Publisher – Srishti Publishers & Distributors)