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Anjana Appachchana at her book-reading session.

Anjana Appachchana at her book-reading session.  

ANJANA APPACHANA was at the centre of a literati binge organised by Akshara and the ITC Grand Kakatiya on June 30. Ignoring the World Cup Finals, people turned up in large numbers to hear her read from Listening Now.

The evening started off with the distinguished critic Meenakshi Mukherjee's introduction to Appachana's work. Later, crisply modulating her voice, Appachana read out sections from Santa, Mallika and Anu.

The Little Theatre, believing that only women could effectively read out a woman's story, dramatised Bahu from Incantations. Bahu and Incantations prefigure several of the themes of Listening Now -- the irascible and cunning mother-in-law, the indifferent (`not listening') husband, the limpet-barnacle sis-in-law and at the centre of the stage, the long-suffering daughter-in-law. One could hear sharp intakes of breath at yet another atrocity of the mother-in-law, and a distinct sigh of relief when the daughter-in-law finally leaves the house.

All things considered, it was surprising how the audience took to a story (which, one notes, is not the best or most searing in the collection) that has been seen in various versions since the days of Lalita Pawar or Suryakantam.

However, as Appachana and Prof. Mukherjee agreed, stories like Incantations or Her Mother were not quite suitable for a public reading where the audience was so varied in composition. Question time saw the now-inevitable query - whether Appachana saw herself as a feminist.

Appachana, unfazed at a question that is now dutifully addressed to any woman writer, assured the audience that such categorisations are for the reader to indulge in. She only wrote the stories. Appachana spoke about her mode of working and emphasised that she never had a pre-set plan as to the progress of her book. The story, the novel, "grows" as it goes along, she said.

Questions then ranged across the autobiographical elements in Listening Now, the remarkable affinity with contemporary Indian soap operas, and the institution of marriage. Appachana, adroitly skirted the issue of autobiography, had no clue as to the importance of Ekta Kapoor to the cultural landscape of contemporary India and joked that to comment on the institution of marriage she would need to write another book!

PRAMOD K. NAYAR

Photo: Mohd. Yousuf

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