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Posts tagged ‘fiction’

Alai Osai

I just finished reading my very first Tamil novel, Kalki’s Alai Osai. I have never read a full fledged Tamil book before; my reading of the language was limited to reading those bit-jokes in Ananda Vikatan. And now I realize everything I have missed out on all these years.

Kalki’s Alai Osai is an exquisite creation. A magnificent work of art that has no parallels, no comparison, that is quite unlike anything ever written. The free flowing language, the beautiful descriptions of pre-independence India, the little villages of Rajampettai and Devapattinam – all bring forth the magic of the simpler life. And yet set against the stark backdrop of the British Raj, they drive home a harsh truth – one that spanned a  100 year long freedom struggle, causing the deaths of thousands of innocent people who voluntarily or by circumstance laid down their lives to usher in India’s freedom.

Kalki’s characters are sketched with such clarity, that it is difficult to believe that what you are reading is mere fiction. At no point are you made to think that one particular character is good or bad. Everyone has shades of gray and they all make decisions that are only as sensible as the situation permits. Seeta’s vivaciousness, Dharini’s surreal grace, Lalita’s all-too-simple devotion to her friend, Raghavan’s monstrous desires and Surya’s ever steady ideals – all make for a collage of very distinctive and memorable characters that won’t leave your thoughts for a very long time.

Kalki brings alive the cruel reality of human nature, one thought, one action of ours that affects the lives of everyone around us and those of our future generations.  He makes you realize that no matter how noble one’s intentions, the repercussions of one impulsive act can be catastrophic enough to haunt them for the rest of their lives. He depicts the contrasts in his characters by embellishing their similarities. He takes you on a sepia-tinted journey to the far-flung corners of the country, starting from a tiny village post office to the vast streets of Mumbai to the banks of the Hoogly in Kolkata to the buzz of activity in Karachi, all the while making you aware of the unrest in the country and its eventual culmination in the barbaric riots of ’47 and the subsequent partition.

As a story teller he remains completely neutral throughout and never allows his personal opinions to jade the narrative. Hence the events of the time remain in the background, affecting the protagonists but never trying to send out a social message of any sort. He also remains extraordinarily detached from his characters, never once lapsing into pathos-evoking descriptions of Seeta’s hardships. He just narrates. You decide your feelings for her based on what he has told you. He builds up the narrative with such ease and class that before you know it, you are possessed by an insurmountable curiosity to know the climax which is sure to leave you shattered and numb. Not because it comes as a surprise to you, but because you realize how futile it all is. And how realizing your mistakes may just not be enough, and if even a little late in coming, may be too late to really do anything about.

I cannot help falling in love with the book over and over again, with every chapter, with very line. It is indeed a pity that a writer of his caliber is not recognized anywhere outside Tamil Nadu.


The Journey

He was nervous. He had been mulling things over for the last few days and every time he thought about it, he felt a tingling excitement mixed with something bordering fear. All of his friends seemed to think he was being stupid. How did it matter anymore? Did he think he could change anything now? And yet, he had always been different from his friends. Passionate and bashful, he never did anything after calculated thought. He found that every time he brooded over anything, it made his life more complicated and he ended up going along with his gut feeling anyway. He decided.

The first time he thought about this was when he overheard his parents talking one night after they thought he was asleep.

“Ramakrishnan has sent me a message. Krishnaveni is 15 years old now. They want us to make all the arrangements for her to be accepted into our household.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful! My daughter-in-law will finally come home!”

Of course, he knew whom they were talking about. The girl whom he had “married” when he was 11. He knew about it, of course, he even remembered the actual ceremony that had taken place. He had vague recollections of tying the knot around her neck, but what he vividly remembered was the jangris that he had guzzled nonstop without anyone even trying to stop him. He found it strange at the time that a boy who used to be berated every single time he touched a sweet was given such a free rein on this day. Must have been the girl. Did she say something to them?

He just never thought of it as a real thing, never once imagined that the marriage that he saw others living in, would be connected to him through the ceremony that happened 7 years ago. But now, he knew. He kept tossing and turning that night, trying to at least remember the face of the girl who was his “wife”. It felt strange saying those words. Even in his head. And then he was overcome this urge to see her once before he could fully accept her. This was unheard of in his family, if his father ever came to know, he would probably be whipped within an inch of his life.

And yet, he went to sleep peacefully that night, thinking he would somehow devise a plan to see the girl before she came to be a part of his family. The next morning, he put forth his proposal to his buddies. They all burst out laughing at this seemingly ludicrous desire of Subramani to see his wife before she came to his house. He had always been a little impulsive, but this was pushing it. They then sat him down and told him all the cons of ever being caught trying to do something like this. He seemed a little doubtful, but he promised to at least think about it.

And he did think about it. Was it his fault that every time he thought about it, he became more and more convinced that he had to see her and speak to her at least once? Once his mind was made up, he settled on a plan. He told his friends of his decision and they wanted no part in this. But he managed to convince one of them to at least be his alibi in case anything went wrong. He knew how much risk he was putting his friend in, but what had to be done had to be done.

And so, he came upon the road going to Pattukkottai. His nervousness was reaching a crescendo now, and the day was hot. He had no idea where she lived, but his plan was to stop someone on the way and ask them where Pattukkottai Ramakrishnan lived. Judging by his title, the man had to be pretty famous in his village and someone would surely be able to point him in the right direction. If people asked any questions, he would simply say he was a government official from Thanjavur. With his attire and his sophisticated air, he thought he could be very convincing.

He didn’t really run into too many problems, his journey to her house was smoother than he expected. Now came the tricky part. He obviously didn’t want to meet her father, or for that matter, any member of her family. He needed to see her alone and speak to her for a few minutes. So he went around to the back of the house where he knew the ladies of the house would be doing household chores. He also knew that since it was about a half-hour to lunch time, the older women of the house would be in the kitchen, cooking, while the younger women (including daughters-in law and nubile daughters) would be in the backyard, washing clothes. Fortunately for Subramani, Ramakrishnan only had 2 daughters and the elder one had already left for her pukkaam or her husband’s house.

So the only girl in the backyard, washing clothes was his Krishnaveni. The minute he set eyes on her, he knew all his fears were unfounded. She did not, in fact, look like a scarecrow. She had a full, voluptuous body, her olive skin was glowing in the sun, while drops of water intermingled with sweat from her labor glistened on her cheeks and arms. Her eyes were the deepest black and her mouth was a natural pout that seemed to increase her beauty manifold. She had worn a beautiful green saree and bangles to match. Her forehead was dotted with a red kungumapottu. She had a pair of golden jimikki in her ears that danced to her every movement. She looked as if the goddess Mahalakshmi herself had descended from the heavens and decided to walk into his life. And while he was standing there, mesmerized in her beauty, she spotted him. A look of fear crossed her face and she made to drop everything she was doing and run inside.


He knew what she was about to do and yelled out her name in time to stop her. Then he set out to explain himself and his inappropriate behavior.

“Krishnaveni, do you remember me? I am Subramani, the 11 year old boy you were married to almost 7 years ago.” Somehow he couldn’t bring himself to say, “your husband”.

She still looked skeptical but she didn’t attempt to leave. He went on.

“I know you think I am crazy, but you must have heard talk of you being sent away to become part of our family in Pulavanji. Well, I needed to see you once before you finally made your entry into my home. And trust me, you are every bit more beautiful than I had ever imagined you to be!”

She seemed mollified by this last statement, and he did say it in all earnest.

“Well, I was hoping I wouldn’t be the only one talking. Didn’t you ever feel like seeing me?”

At first she seemed very shy and unable to form a sentence in her mind. But then, she opened her mouth to speak in the most lilting, melodious voice ever.

“Umm.. No, not really. Appa said that once he received word from Pulavanji that all the arrangements were done, I would be leaving. I never really thought of doubting my parents’ decision. But I must say, I am glad you did come to see me.”

At this she smiled and her teeth looked like a string of pearls. And then a woman’s voice came sailing through the open windows in the house.

“Krishnaveni! Lunch is ready, come inside. You can do the clothes later. Hurry!”

She looked at him and said a rushed goodbye and went inside. She seemed to be gliding rather than walking, such was her effect on him.

He was supremely happy at his decision of having come to see Krishnaveni and decided to go home. As he turned out of the alley leading into the main street a voice arrested him. His heart sank.

“Hey, Subramani, aren’t you Chandrasekaran’s son? Do you recognize me? I am your father’s cousin Gopu. In fact, I am on my way to see your father today, why don’t you come with me……..”

P.S.: The painting is Raja Ravi Varma’s painting ‘The Milkmaid’. I have always found Ravi Varma’s women to be classically beautiful. I could only think of the women in his paintings when I thought of Krishnaveni.

55 Fiction – The Exam

She wondered if she could ever count each of the twinkling stars in the night sky. The clock in the tower struck 9. She had to get back to reading her text book, ignoring the weird grumbling noises her stomach was making. The flickering orange street light looked like it would go put any minute.

Edited to add: This is the start of a new tag game. I now tag Rayshma to complete the next part of this story in 55 words exactly. She, in turn, will tag someone else and come back to me and tell me whom she has tagged. This way I can follow the story to its end. Each person tagged will inform their tagger whom they’ve tagged, so that the thread can be followed.