Entitled Inganeyum Chila Mathilukal (Such Walls as These) and set out in a dozen vignettes, all sliced from contemporary life, Sulochana Rammohan’s second book of anthologised short fiction comes to you in a slender volume of approximately 80 pages.
This time too, Sulochana does not deviate much from her chosen landscapes of family, relationships, and random anguish and triumph. They are picked up from those everyday faces that pass you in the market, on the street, anywhere at all. Yet, they hold your attention and ask questions.
Not surprisingly, the best stories are about friendships, especially between women. The title story, which is also the one that appears first in the volume, is about two women who are neighbours and friends and who connect over the barter of vegetables and home-made dishes. One is a meticulous housekeeper, a marvellous cook, and generous to a fault with the fare her kitchen creates. When this neighbour moves away to another part of the city, it’s the flavour of food that remains in the memories of their friendship. Years later, the narrator, now ailing with a terminal illness, encounters the same flavour in a hospital room, and she makes peace with life for all those lost bouquets.
Of the two friends in yet another story, who meet after years, one is an unremarkable home-maker and the other back from a time in the West. They throw their routine to the winds to gather in their old cronies and have a quiet blast at home, much to the surprise of the family of the home-maker. These are characters you meet in your neighbourhood. So is the newly-wed girl who has no qualms about grabbing private time with her partner in an evening ride with him, after the city closes down.
Sulochana has sketched women with a will too. In ‘Shaapamoksham’ the reader sees a non-descript, totally ignored, ostensibly unskilled wallflower of a female becoming an entrepreneur, quite out of the blue. Similarly so in ‘Mrigathrishnakalil Theliyunnathu’. There is laudable confidence in the narrator’s voice, on how she upsets the plans of a young man trying to sell her a business concept.
Sulochana uses food to celebrate relationships in her text, the descriptions are enticing. The bouquet of the biriyani in the title story is almost a tangible flavour to the reader, and when older folk are spoken of getting into a laid back life, they snack on peanuts and banana chips. The memory of a beloved friend is locked into a favourite fish curry, and the triumph of a graduate student of the School of Life over a B-School product is woven into a perfectly made glass of fruit juice.
Sulochana’s protagonists are rarely men, and are not perfect women either. But they do have succeeded in accepting themselves.
Inganeyum Chila Mathilukal