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Updated: March 26, 2014 14:37 IST

Master strokes

AKHILA KRISHNAMURTHY
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Three Virgins and Other Stories; Manjula Padamanabhan, Zubaan, Rs.499.
Special Arrangement Three Virgins and Other Stories; Manjula Padamanabhan, Zubaan, Rs.499.

A collection that dazzles and disturbs, amuses and amazes.

Manjula Padmanabhan is like an architect who constructs each story and character with a sense of both honesty and detachment. Three Virgins and Other Stories, the newest collection of short stories by Manjula Padmanabhan, dazzles and disturbs, amuses and amazes. Every story is, in a sense, a product of conscious construction. And together, they rise up like a skyscraper whose core is founded both on the principles of a good plot and are rooted in the idea of singularity; each apartment sparkles with its own aesthetic that lend it a unique and specific character!

‘Three Virgins’, the last story and written specifically for this anthology, is the story of three virgins, who go through the chore of losing their virginity in an almost surgical, synthetic manner.

Padmanabhan is also a mistress of metaphors’, as the ‘The Strength of Small Things’ shows. In it, a little key becomes a metaphor for the power and personality of the physicality of small-made people; in this case, the narrator’s possessive, control-freak mother who lures her son into killing his wife and new-born for money.

In her constructs, openings and endings, entrances and exits, are particularly exciting. In ‘Teaser’, the introductory story that sets the tone for what is to come, Rakesh is an eve-teaser whose mind and the way it works are nauseating. He gets a sense of power that “resided in the fork of his pants”. Women and girls are targets and are referred to as “it”. Padmanabhan, through Rakesh, allows us an insight into a corrupt mind where targets are decoded in terms of demographics. The readers are almost like voyeurs watching a morbid act of male power. In the end, a master stroke by Padmanabhan sees the teaser becoming the teased!

The centrespread is the writer’s famous story, ‘Hot Death and Cold Soup’. A journalist spends two days with Sally, an American woman who is watching over her dying husband while gearing up to fall into the pyre with him! With death hovering in a large bungalow in the middle of Northern India, and a three-member staff with quirks of their own, and a food menu that is as cold as the atmosphere, the story, by virtue of its length — 72 pages — and pace — slow and steady — firmly establishes the writer’s position as a storyteller with a style of her own. There are other stories too; where a vampire visits New Delhi, where a stain of blood on a floral bed-sheet becomes the bone of contention and the point of realisation in a mixed relationship between an African-American woman and an American Born Confused Desi (ABCD), where an American couple visit the sex caves of Khajuraho… to name just a few. The façade has the common stamp of the architect; but pay each story a visit and read between the layers!  

Three Virgins and Other Stories; Manjula Padamanabhan, Zubaan, Rs.499.

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