Monday, October 12, 2009


At the final pages of Ladies Coupe by Anita Nair.
Finally. Just as dazed.
Before this, I was comfortable in my skin. Before this.
Akhila’s story. Akhilandeswari’s story.
Possibly, the story of every single (as in unmarried, unattached) forty-five year old woman who lives in India.
At one level, this is the tale of six women—strangers who are co-travellers in a second class ladies compartment.
At one level, its not.

I read the words in italics before the start of her story; the blood in my veins congeals. Mirror image, mine. I read on, and it is as if someone cut through my veins with a sharp knife.

How did she know what if feels like? How did she know all this, this staying at the edges, unwelcome, this wary distrust that every breach of confidence adds to, this brittle sense of appearances? About being cast away, anchorless, till you find your will, your personal North to navigate by, and know that you are your own savior?

How does she know all this? How did she manage to think up these characters? Now, to write like one is, is pretty easy; but to write like one is not- oh la! Whether it is the fragile-as-a-piece-of-glass housewife Janaki, who at sixty-something clambers for a voice to call her own, or the lower strata tamil help Marikonlathu who talks with ease of a lifetime sweeping and mopping, always taking care to stay away from the wandering eye—how did she manage this, this authenticity?

The writing is Indian as the story is, it is fluid and effortless but above all it is unabashedly Indian, there is the music of the land in its cadences. It is difficult to put this into a genre, if this is a romance then it is a romance with oneself.

Awesome work.


Update: for all the languid beauty of the rest of the text, the ending is a whopper. Perhaps deadlines or market forces wormed in their influence. Not because her transformation into Scarlet O’Hara is sudden or disconcerting, but Akhila’s behavior is way off the golden mean that runs like a thread in the rest of this work.
No, something’s off here, and the reader is left askance, adrift.

9 comments:

PQ said...

This sounds like a must read Austy. I am going to definitely search for this one and read it. Yes it is not very easy to write one's own experience at times - some authors mess that up. But then to write about different characters making it feel real and authentic, thats amazing. And I have always felt that to be a great author, apart from having great narrative skills one needs a big heart too :-)

norrbu said...

My library doesn't have it, but I've requested for it -- so will read it as soon as its here.

PipeTobacco said...

Austere:

The book sounds very interesting! I will put it on my list to purchase.

Your photograph of the city scene in the earlier essay next to this one is absolutely stunning! Thank you for posting it. It has a true, artistic quality!

PipeTobacco
http://frumpyprofessor.blogspot.com

Nimh Sellers said...

Sounds like a shame that the end of the story did not quite fit with the rest. Maybe rushed or influenced as you said, market conditions, etc. It happens.

I often find the most valuable friends, standing at the edge, apart from others. Fellow observers. Many of them are people that are much older than I am. Never married or widowed with no children. I learn from their experiences. They are not simply forgotton. Soemtimes aspects of them survive on in my stories, like an ode.

A writer does not always have to draw from their own expeirence, when others are willing to share theirs. What was revealed in their words, voice, facial expressions or body position? These aspects help to create fictional characters that seem real.

If I have the chance to tell the person I was thinking of them wen I developed this character. They often say, "I could never be that strong." But I already know that they have.

-Nimh

austere said...

PQ- A big heart? YES! And you have one. The authenticity, the detail that she brings to different life situations is just too good.
I think you'll like this.

Norrbu- Essentially a ladies book, but perhaps it is not fair to slot it as such.Would love to hear your reactions.


PT- From the library perhaps? So many cultural issues here. A westerner would find it difficult to empathise, or not.

I'm glad you liked the photos, you're tempting me to put up more...


Nimh sellers-loved that eye opener- an ode, so poetic. In contrast, my idea churner is the newspaper. :)

Since I'm a private person- the blog may show otherwise- I assume others are, too. Do people open up so much?

But such extent of detail! To bring in diversity and still make it believable? That's her mastery of the craft.

Nimh Sellers said...

To me yes. Trust is a cherished gift. Like the Doctor's hippocratic oath, my writing should never do harm to anyone.

If anything, by sharing with the right person, many find a sense of peace even when circumstance can never be truly reconciled.

-Nimh

mago said...

:)

AmitL said...

Nice review,Austy-and,yes-over the last few years,I've also noticed that some Indian authors write really well,and, one can almost imagine a real life situation in their books!But,of course,just like in Bollywood,they do tend to make a 'happily ever after'kind of situation,so that the book doesn't leave people feeling hi and dry!:)

austere said...

Amit- it was as if at the last 10% of the book, the editor ordered- pump up the seamy! give her some pizazz! and make it a happy ending pronto!

mago :)

nimh- to give hope is a very big responsibility. sometimes it is the only silver lining.