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bookends The audience chuckled at every twist and turn of absurdity, revisiting literary paths that have been taken before and seeing them anew
bookends The audience chuckled at every twist and turn of absurdity, revisiting literary paths that have been taken before and seeing them anew

Reading from her most popular works, Anita Nair had the crowd taking familiar literary journeys

With her head bent down and her long tresses curling round her face into the book, Anita Nair “refreshed memories in reading small excerpts from ‘Ladies Coupe’ (2001) and ‘Mistress’ (2005)” at a book reading session last weekend at Easy Library.

When she started reading about Akhila from “Ladies Coupe”, you were filled with a sense and smell of escape and wanted to dash to the nearest railway platform. You pitied, envied and rejoiced with Akhila who has, for the first time “climbed onto an overnight train to a place she has never been before”.

The name given to Akhila, the fictional “forty-five and single” woman who, “does what is expected of her... (and) dreams about the rest”, is drawn from a former colleague of the writer’s, said Anita. She was “an independent 32-year-old from a very middle-class Malayalee Christian family who, even after having lived abroad and being exposed to urban culture, still maintained certain rules.” Akhila also has touches of a “40-year-old unmarried American woman living in Manhattan who still battles with her ‘incomplete’ status without a man in her life.”

The journey on wheels with teeming railway platforms was nothing new for her, said Anita. “Every six or seven months, I am on a train, travelling to Kerala. The ladies queue at Cantonment station and the ferry at the counter are familiar to me.”

There’s something about listening to a writer read to you that’s better than when you curl up reading novels on a window-sill. Like being read a bedtime-story and being lulled to sweet smiles and dreamy looks. The audience chortled and chuckled at every twist and turn of absurdity, revisiting literary paths that have been taken before and seeing them all newly.

Whether it was Chris, the American who pronounced “Shyam” as “Sham” to which Shyam replies: “Sham, I am no sham. It’s S-h-y-a-m”, or the slow and gentle probing and coaxing in the Prologue in “Mistress” about the “face that determines the heart’s passage”, the passages read were engaging.

Said the writer of creative originality and literary influences: “It’s important to evolve your own style of writing and not be too influenced by what you read or see.”

“Mistress” saw its creator amused by art critics who are “a group of deluded beings who live within a tiny galaxy; anything that doesn’t fit within its boundaries and the limits of their knowledge puzzles them. What they do not understand, they either intellectualise or dismiss.” Anita said: “I had to put this ‘culture-vulture’ of art insight and cynicism into the book. Once, there was this ‘culture person’ who told me ‘Oh yes! I’ve been meaning to read your book’ and said precisely the same thing two years later.”

Anita also quotes from a critic who (mis)interpreted “Ladies Coupe” as a feminist novel, adding that she never meant it to be “a female manifesto”.

“Mistress is a book about artistic integrity,” she then explained, “which consciously did not have an introduction as it meant to make readers take that effort to find out something about the little-known dance form of Kathakali – not just those who live outside India, but even readers in Kerala.”

She added: “And I enjoyed the research more than I did the writing.”

“Living Next Door to Alise (2007)” was the result of telling stories to her smart-alecky nephew to get him to eat his breakfast and go to school. And “Puffin Book of World Myths and Legends (2004)” was a compilation of the myths she re-created when she started jotting down from a book of myths from her husband’s collection after they were married.

“I learned the art of pacing a book from slick popular-fiction and the skill of description from my strong Sanskrit grounding in school, influenced by the lush descriptiveness of Indian writing which also has a similar cultural pattern running in Spanish or Afro-American writings,” said Anita. “Books that are written for the IIT/IT or BPO audience are light as their lives are light.

However, I do read popular-fiction if it’s nicely written.”

The writer ended with: “I am putting together a book that has everything to do with a literary life – book launches, readings, people, awards, family, personal and universal views that will be released early next year. But I don’t know when my novel will finish…”

The book-reading then, was much more than “a bare fraction of time in people’s lives (whether) it was a piece of music you listen to as you drive or a book read at the airport, a painting on wall in a hotel lobby… a filler of time and space, a point of diversion and no more.”

AYESHA MATTHAN

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