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Lessons in Forgetting – Anita Nair

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)

 
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Posted by on May 24, 2010 in Anita Nair

 

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Afterwards – Jaishree Misra

Disappointing, was my thought as I turned the last page. Another Indian author that I had not tried for a long time despite several people urging me. The fact that she is related to Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai as stated by Wikipedia  was certainly one reason to try this one out. May be this is not her best book, however isn’t consistency the halmark of a good writer? Look at Rohinton Mistry or Anita Nair they manage to keep at it book after book. Her other books like Ancient Promises, Accidents Like Love and Marriage seem to have done much better.

With a threadbare plot, Afterwards is a weak novel with nothing that really stands out. It is the story of Maya – her oppressive married life, her brief dalliance with freedom and finally her demise. Abused by her suspicious husband in Kerala, Maya strikes up a friendship with Rahul Tiwari an NRI who hires out the house next door. Rahul is her ticket to freedom and she cajoles him into taking her and her daughter Anjali with him to the UK. After a short but happy life in England with Rahul, she dies in an accident. Pretty simple? While I do prefer simple plots, this one is too simple even for my liking.

In terms of characters Maya is the obvious central pivot. She is the only saving grace in another wise pretty ordinary set of actors. What makes her interesting are the grey shades that Jaishree has painted her with. She is not all love, grace and longsuffering as seen on the surface, she is conniving and scheming at some level especially in the way she impresses on Rahul to help her. Rahul, though the narrator of the story, is not as clearly drawn out. The others like Govind, Maya’s husband;  Kevin, Rahul’s English friend and Rahul’s parents are the others that do not make much of an impact. Rukmani, Maya’s mother is the only other character that has a decent role to play.

Jaishree seems to try a little too hard to make her descriptions of the mileau be it Kerala or London realistic. However, she is no match to Anita Nair or Arundhati Roy in the way they paint Kerala in their writings. She also goes overboard with the phase where Rahul is mourning Maya, a real tear jerker. I had to skip pages to escape repitition and boredom.  

Even the back of book comments are for her other books like Ancient Promises and Accidents Like Love and Marriage. I will definitely be more careful before I pick up another book of Jaishree.

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Uncategorized

 

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