Books

An affair to remember

RAISING THE BAR Preeti Shenoy   | Photo Credit: Murthy and Pradeep

Having been among the top selling authors in India for a long time, Preeti Shenoy, repeatedly proves that she deserves to be there in the coveted list. A case in point is her latest offering, A Hundred Little Flames (Westland).

Different from her other six books, as she agrees, it delves into platonic love and child-parent relationship and tries to connect to with a mature reader. As always, Preeti brings in the romantic flavour and sustains it through two elderly people, who once were in love but got separated because of circumstances. “Most young readers say it transported them to a different world, and they began to look at their relationship with their parents in a new light,” remarks Preeti, adding, “with this book, I think I might have created a new readership of people who are in their forties and above.”

The book takes off with young Ayan losing his job and moving to Kerala to take care of his grandfather, Gopal Shanker. As the story unfolds, the latter’s past life, including his love for Rohini, comes to light. How they move apart to meet again after many years, which is opposed by Gopal’s children Jairaj and Shaila.

Preeti, interestingly, juxtaposes an era when affection was conveyed through letters with the present times when friends are made with the click of a button., She touches upon contemporary issues like ignoring the elderly and parents wanting children to toe their line without being preachy.

Excerpts:

On the book being different from her earlier ones

Yes, it is indeed very different from my earlier ones, mostly because it is literary fiction. I always try and do something different with each of my novels. All my novels deal with very different subjects. Though there is a central theme of relationships running across all my books, each one is unique in terms of core subject. I think it is important to grow, and I do believe I better myself with each book. Hence it is a natural progression for me.

On the book focussing on platonic love, generally unheard of today

Platonic relationships do very much exist. It is indeed possible for a man and a woman to be friends, and to love each other, without jumping into bed. The debate of whether a man and a woman can be ‘just friends’ is very old and eternal. Movies like When Harry Met Sally and our own Bollywood films have explored this theme over and over. I see so many guys and girls who are good friends, and nothing more. I do not see it as ‘rare’.

On the main protagonists, Gopal Shanker and Rohini and their ‘unique’ relationship

I would like the reader to interpret the character the way they see it. To many, Rohini seems almost like a Goddess, yet I had not constructed her that way. I felt she was human with all her faults, much like any of us. Gopal Shanker is principled, stubborn and once he gives his word, he keeps it. That is his strength as well as his weakness, which alone makes him a complex character. As to their relationship, there is a question in the book, where Rohini asks Gopal: ‘If we were two women meeting, would the society have any objections?’ I think that one line speaks volumes.

On parents like Gopal Shanker, being treated harshly by children as depicted through Jairaj and Shaila in the story

Jairaj did support Gopal Shanker, when the police came to investigate. Shaila is not a bad daughter. She didn’t ill-treat Gopal Shanker. Her misplaced anger, when she was younger was against Rohini. She had also just lost her mother, and a person who is going through that grieving process will naturally lash out. Also Jairaj instructed Velu to keep a close watch on Gopal Shanker’s health. So to say that they treated Gopal Shanker harshly would be a one-sided view. The reader might feel that, no doubt, as they empathise with Gopal Shanker but Shaila and Jairaj have their reasons. As humans, all of us have faults.

On the attitude of couples towards their elderly parents

I think a lot of couples ‘use’ their elderly parents as baby-sitters which is sad. The couple is a working couple and rather than send the child to a crèche, the responsibility of looking after the toddlers is given to the grandparents. Many spoke to me on the condition of anonymity and said they disliked it, but they fear speaking out. So the ‘looking after parents’ which exists today, is tinged with selfishness.

On Ayan revolting against his father and deciding to pursue his passion for painting

Ayan has been submissive all his life. He finally puts his foot down to stand up for himself. I do not see anything as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. To do so would be to sit in judgement of another’s action. If you keep pushing people, and they do not push back. they will finally reach an exploding point, which is what happened to Ayan.

I think it is very important to do things that give you joy. Though Ayan had a corporate job, he was never fit for it. He was doing it, as he was forced to. Most people are risk-averse, preferring to be conventional when it comes to career choice. There also might be financial constraints, and there might be parental pressure too. Hence not everyone does what they truly want, and are stuck in jobs which they do not find joy out of. They know no way to get out, and the wheels of time keep rolling.

On setting the narrative in Kerala

I am from Kerala. My mother lives in Kerala, in a tiny village like Poongavanam. Kerala is very much a part of me, as I spent every summer vacation, in my grandfather’s house, which was like Thekke Madom. I have drawn a lot from my personal experiences, and from observations. My love-affair with Kerala continues to this day, and this book is a tribute to a thousand cherished memories that I hold like a treasure within my heart.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 7:01:23 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/an-affair-to-remember/article21296442.ece

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