This book covers the story of three generations of a family, but one is kept in the dark about the year in which the story begins. One presumes it begins in the later years of the 19th century. Ambujam is widowed at a young age, and when her father dies, she is left in charge of his huge property and her two young brothers.
Selfless, efficient, shrewd, Ambujam is the most endearing character in the story. And that is because she is not saccharine sweet, but feisty, and when occasion demands, she can put the termagant Amuda in her place.
The story begins in a village, where the rhythm of life closely follows the moods of Nature. The only entertainment here is life itself. In a breezy, conversational style, the author describes village life, the food cooked in the orthodox Iyengar kitchen, the way the marriages of Raghavan and Pattabhi are arranged and childbirth in the family.
Books that span three generations of a family serve as a gateway to the past, and show the inexorable march of time, which slowly but surely changes the structure of the family. But for such a story to be convincing, the narrative threads must be deftly woven into the history of the various periods mentioned in the story. In ‘Alamaram,’ historical facts and dates are all muddled up. In some places, it seems as if the story was written first and then an attempt was made to fit the incidents into a historical context. As a result, the story hangs in limbo, without being anchored in time. There is such a mix up in chronology, that absurdities abound, and the author loses her grip over the story.
For example, Rangan marries when he is in his twenties, and it is said he has children 10 years after his marriage (pg 938). But we are also told that when he is 85, his two children are just stepping into college (pg 885). Pattabhi tells Veda that Nalli opened shop some years previously in 1928 (pg 179). So presumably, this conversation takes place in the 1930s. At this time Mythili is a child and is unmarried. But in 1921, Mythili is said to be carrying her third child ( pg 531). On page 38, it is said that Raghavan has his first son Vasu when he is 45. Pattabhi is said to be four years Raghavan’s junior (pg 13). So how is it that when Vasu is eight, (pgs 72 and 93) Pattabhi is 22?!
Mythili is not Pattabhi’s biological child, but brought up by him. She grows up thinking that Pattabhi is her father and that Pattabhi’s brother Raghavan is her paternal uncle (Periappa). Mythili is married off to Vasu, Raghavan’s son, and she learns the truth about her parentage only after she has had five children. Surely, one who didn’t know the truth would have seen this marriage as a forbidden tie! So how is it that Mythili never once questions how Pattabhi got her married to Vasu, her periappa’s son?!
The book gets off to a promising start, but loses steam after sometime, and because of all the imponderables and inaccuracies, it ends up being disappointing. Some proof reading could have been done too. Words are mis-spelt, wherever ‘Na’ and ‘na’ are involved- ‘pen’ for ‘peN,’ ‘maNNu pugazh’ for ‘mannu pugazh’ and so on.
P.B. No: 1447, Manimekalai Prasuram, 7 (Old number 4), Thanikachalam Road, Tyagaraya Nagar, Chennai 600 017. Rs. 490