Tag Archives: Malayalis

Arrack in the Afternoon – Mathew Vincent Menacherry

Like I said earlier, who but a mallu would call a novel, Arrack in the Afternoon? Our fondness for Bacchanalian pleasures tends to come to the fore almost everywhere. On to the book, the lone review that I read was insipid (the review, not the book) and all it really talked about was the sexual content. Here was another squeamish reviewer who missed the point. What’s with Indian critics and adult content? I was relieved to find that there was definitely more to the book than  just sex.

Mathew has done quite well with his debut novel. The story is about Varghese, a failed and drunken poet, who in a rare moment of reprieve from drunken stupor decides to end his life. And miraculously escapes from under the wheels of the truck. Karan, a conniving con man spots huge potential in the act and takes Varghese under his wings. Karan transforms Varghese into  a god man and together they progress into the sitting rooms, party halls  of the rich and famous. The story ends with Varghese returning to the life he left behind.

Characterisation seems to be Mathew’s strength. Varghese, as the reticent, intelligent and strong willed anti hero is likeable and real. Karan plays the sly and slimy fixer very well. Patricia, Varghese’s patient lover; Sabu, the good guy journo are well etched. There are several characters that are drawn from real life – the gang-lords, the socialites, politicians are easily recognisable. The narrative is easy paced, humorous for the most part. The language is also quite free flowing. The intimate scenes are anything but that, they are hard hitting and don’t seem forced into the plot. Mathew holds up a mirror to society with his book. Our generation’s need for godmen, exploitation on religious grounds, politicians leveraging religious beliefs, the sleaze in the upper echelons of the rich and the famous.

Now to some of the weaknesses, like many non-resident-Keralite authors the part in Kerala is forgettable. He just doesn’t get the essence like Anita Nair or Arundhati Roy. He makes errors with the mallu lingo with verbatim translations (its thozhilaliye and not thorillaline for labourers). The whole plot revolving around the one circus like act of escaping from the jaws of death seems too far fetched. Repititions could have been avoided, he keeps using the phrase ‘worthy’ to refer to people. The other irritant is his constant references to passing wind, gets a little nauseous.

My rating 2.75 on 5.

Published by HarperCollins.


Posted by on March 21, 2010 in Recommended


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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.


Posted by on April 25, 2009 in Uncategorized


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A Journey Out Of India – Anna K Chacko

I am thoroughly confused about this book, I searched the book for clues, I trawled the Internet and yet I am not sure – some say this book is a memoir, some say fictionalised autobiography and some others say it is a novel. And what exactly is a fictionalised autobiography? It can only be one of the two – fiction or autobiography. I don’t know if it is deliberate, but the author also does not clarify anywhere. And why am I caught up with on that one point? Because any review will revolve around that critical aspect. If it is an autobiography, I would say it is a very brave attempt. If its fiction then it is lacking on several fronts.

‘A Journey Out of India’ is the story of Anna, a Syrian Orthodox Christian growing up in Hyderabad. Born into an affluent family, she is living under illusions of external grandeur and contentment. Underneath the exterior of domestic harmony, Anna is battling feelings of inadequacy, neglect and abuse. Her father is disappointed that his first born is a girl child and that actually starts the downward spiral of the family’s fortunes. Adding to this misery is the fact that Anna is born with a congenital problem. There is a simmering conflict between her parents and she finds love and care in Lakshmi her maid. She is abused by her uncle and molested by a family friend and therefore grows up confused about her own sexuality. A failed marriage, familial betrayal and exodus from India are offset by her success as a doctor in Hawai. Her ally till the end is her sister Rachel. Together with her mother and sister she finds freedom and contentment.      

While Anna is an amusing character, she exhibits shades of grey. On the one hand she is independent, perceptive and intelligent but there are times when she prefers to be led and has no clarity or purpose. Rachel is a much more firm character. The mother scores no points for tenderness or concern barring a few instances. One cannot ignore the strains of Lear in the father, more sinned against than sinning. The men obviously take the brunt in terms of characterisation, with the exception of her father the others including Uncle Joey, her husband James are amorous and devious. (One can’t fathom how one man can abuse three women in the same family despite being so close knit, especially since Anna and Rachel share practically everything). What makes the characterisation realistic is that all of them are flawed – her aunt Anna (her role model), her upright uncle Matthew, her mother, her father even Lakshmi.

The setting is in old nawabi Hyderabad, where religion has not yet divided the people, where there is harmony. Anna uses plants and flowers like Chitra Divakaruni does with spices in ‘Mistress of Spices’ to give clues of how the plot will unfold. It is a little hard to understand how plants can govern human destiny. The author seems much more well versed in Urdu than with Malayalam and she has made errors in her translations of malayalam words and phrases. Aban she says is malayalam for brother when it is malay. One glaring instance is when she writes ‘kurielaison’, as ‘kyrielaison’ and says it is Aramaic while it is actually Syriac for ‘Lord have mercy upon us’ (atleast that is what I believe). There are several typos and errors in the book that the editing team has missed – leaves a bad taste.

Give it a miss and you won’t have missed much.

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Posted by on August 6, 2008 in Disappointing


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Maya – George Thundiparampil

Of late I have been focusing on English Writers of Keralite origins and that was the only reason for me to pick up this book that I have never heard of – Maya by George Thundiparampil. “The turbulent past amid the clamour of contemporary Kerala” begins the back of book write up and also says it is centred around Fort Kochi. The author’s note promised a lot of history that kind of got me making up my mind.

The story is about Kaappiri, a ‘homogenous being’ who is waiting for moksha. He can attain redemption only if he can narrate the story of his existence of 336 years to a predestined apsara, the nymph from the kingdom of gods as predicted by his guru. In Maya, a young sensual collegian, he meets his deliverer who is the only person who can see him. He becomes an integral part of her life and they finally fall in love, a highly risky develpment for Kaappiri. Their intimate ‘The Entity’ like encounter shakes his focus on his eternal mission. Will it mean that he will have to wait another millenium for freedom? Will his ‘human weaknesses’, like love, loyalty and honesty finally prove to be his undoing? That is the crux of the story.

Mr. Thundiparampil has used a unique plot for the structure of the novel. The novel takes the reader through time – the Portugese foray into India, the Dutch in India, the spread of Christianity. Kaappiri’s atman manifests itself across these historical events as Lam, the African slave warrior, his son Kannan and as Ajay a slave in Goa. Each of these characters also interact with famous historical personalities like Vasco da Gama, the general Duarte Pacheco Pereira, the evangelist Francis Xavier and the poet Luis de Camoes. There is also the strong element of Hindu philosophy including occultism, tantric rites and the central theme of birth and rebirth. The story is interesting, the mileu is compelling and it is spaced out well. We also get an insight into the atrocities perpetrated by the Portugese and the Dutch particularly in Kerala, a change from our obsession on the crimes of the English.

The fact that the author has done vast research and analysis is evident throughout the book. However, that exactly is the biggest failing of the book. The details are at times excruciating and I was almost at the point of giving it up especially at the chapter on Lam. I did skip 40 – 50 pages. The story-teller in Mr. Thundiparampil is overcome by the inherent historian for a major part of the book, which is when the narrative becomes almost unbearable. There are instances when the author takes liberties with his own interpretations of history especially his dismissal of the visit of the apostle Thomas to India as a myth.

A decent attempt. Try it if you can drum up patience.

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Posted by on July 7, 2008 in Recommended


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