Books

The mystery in the family

Shashi Deshpande (left), Poile Sengupta (middle) and Chiranjiv Singh (right)  

Poile Sengupta, among India’s respected writers, is known to be a wordsmith. Her mastery over dialogue can be seen in her plays for adults as well as for children. Her gift of storytelling shines through in her children’s writing, such as Role Call, Role Call Again, Vikram and Vetal, among others. After traversing genres of fiction and poetry, Poile has written her first novel, Inga.

At the recently-held launch at Alliance Francaise, author Shashi Deshpande, Poile’s long time friend, says the book is a must read for its plot and language.

“Poile’s love of language is seen in her plays. The way she enjoys playing with words is always very delightful. This is a mystery novel, so I don’t think one should talk about it too much. Inga, the central character, is an enigma, throughout the novel.”

The book tells the story of Rapa, who is born into a Tamil Brahmin family, and raised in Delhi, where she is introduced to English literature, which she finds fascinating.

It is, however, her relationship with her cousin, Inga, with whom she spends time during her summer holidays in Kerala that forms the core of the book. Poile brings to life the nuances of the characters’ everyday lives.

Shashi adds: “It is also a family story. Readers please don’t expect a milk and honey story. It is strong, thick coffee. Poile herself uses that in the novel. This is strong, thick coffee, with dragon mothers-in-law breathing fire, tyrannical fathers trampling on their children’s dreams, dominating aunts and dominated husbands.”

Chiranjiv Singh, former Ambassador to UNESCO in Paris, who was also present at the launch, considers the book remarkable for the use of the language. “There are registers of Tamil English, Malayalam English, convent English, Indian English, Delhi English, South Indian English. It’s a melange of Indian English, and that’s fascinating.”

“It’s strong liquor, I would say,” Chiranjiv adds, to laughs, and continues, “It’s a word picture like that of Braque. While reading it, I could imagine Poile’s voice coming through. It is not a greenhorn writer’s first novel. It is an experienced writer’s first novel.”

Sumeet Shetty, the emcee, asked Poile of the genesis of the novel. “The name, Inga, triggered something in me. When my mother talked about this cousin, called Inga, I kept asking her, ‘Amma, what do you mean Inga? Who is Inga akka? She didn’t know, but it seemed like thangachi, that kind of thing. That’s how it started,” says Poile who was born in Ernakulam, Kerala, and now lives in Bangalore.

As Rapa studies in Delhi and Inga in a school in Kerala, they don’t correspond during term time. But manage to write letters to each other. “While Rapa is very literary in her English, Inga is not. A lot of Inga is the translation of Tamil Malayalam into English.”

Sumeet observes that there are a lot of literary references in the book. “I think it’s out of sense of mischief, actually,” says a smiling Poile, “Because you read all these writers and you wonder, how do they write the way they do? Is there some special kind of art they have? Is there a special kind of vocabulary that they are good at? There were writers doing all this, seemingly effortlessly. So I thought I could have my character do the same! And so she writes like Enid Blyton and writes like Lewis Carroll. It’s great fun. But in the Indian context, it sounds funny. Let’s see if you find it funny.”

Another colourful character in the book is Great Aunt Kuppai. “She’s probably the sum total of every imposing aunt in South India!” says Sumeet.

Poile says some parts of writing Inga were easier and other parts were not, but adds that the process of writing fascinates writers. She contends that writing for children is tougher than writing for adults. “In Bengal, unless you write for children and pass that test, you are not considered a writer. But in other parts of India, not so much.”

The evening was made livelier with theatre personalities Ashish Sen and Lekha Naidu reading excerpts from the book. Inga is a Tranquebar publication and is priced at Rs. 350.


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Printable version | Jul 23, 2021 9:58:27 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/the-mystery-in-the-family/article6563758.ece

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