Full disclosure : I was a part of the writing group in which the novel was submitted for critique in its raw bones. I thought it was brilliant then and I feel it is mind-blowing now.
It is really hard to review a book which is written by one of my favourite writers. This is the same reason I don’t write reviews of Murakami’s books too. However, when I finished reading this book, it inspired me to write about it.
In this lockdown, staying with my parents who are fast approaching their 70s, I got a glimpse of their world. They both were long retired. One of them was operated last year for cardiac issues. They have different kinds of worries than the virus or their own health. They keep wondering about their nieces and nephews and if they had got the vaccine. They worry about how I am coping up with the mental stress of work from home. They know almost every other distant relations along with their medical history. Sometimes during the morning coffee they discuss about who will make it or not make it based on the comorbidity levels and their Karma, of course.
The novel, by Meera Rajagopalan deals with two such people, Srini and Pankajam. The novel opens with Srini getting admitted in hospital for his cardiac problems. In the subsequent pages, Pankajam recalls how she let her guard down about the dietary restrictions bit by bit because of the festivals, because of the taste and so many other things which led to the second attack. I could feel this because apparently I am the paranoid person in my house who is very strict on diet after my father’s hospitalisation last year.
Pankajam is losing her memory too. But still she is responsible for her husband’s well being first. Her doctor advices her to maintain a journal to help her with her failing memory. As she deals with her husband’s health, the marital trouble of her daughter in a far away land in her own way, documenting everything in her journal and letting us have a glimpse of what she is going through right now and went through in the past.
As they say in medical journals and my google research capabilities, the people who lose memories will find their deeply shut memories and instance in the final stages. We get to see that too in Pankajam case. I was really annoyed in first few chapters when she mixed up names and talk about her long lost friend but it all made sense in the end. Not only it made sense, but it also came as a little bit of shock. Like the one we get from our refrigerator door when the voltage is too low. Not very harming but the feel stays with us for a long time and we become very conscious every time we go near the fridge. These parts have a similar effect.
Pankajam is not a boring person at all. She has quirky way of seeing and telling things. The novel lets you smile for most of the time in the initial pages. Srini calls Pankajam ‘Pin – Laden’ when she gets her acupuncture treatment. I am so using it when I get a chance. Right from the dedication part to the acknowledgement part, the authors sense of humour shines through.
Sample this for the acknowledgement part “The Mantri Developers team for delaying our housing project so much that I had no neighbours to distract me from writing”
The footnotes are no less too. “Vathakulambu – Tangy, slightly sweet liquid; literally, sambhar that is dried. Likely invented when a lady found out that the sambhar had boiled a bit too much, and also that she had forgotten to boil the lentils, Perhaps she was chatting with a neighbour. Perhaps she was simply too tired”
“Abasagunam – Inauspicious. Mostly used for actions of girls and women: Letting hair loose, combing hair after dark, sweeping the house after dark and so on.”
“Sammandhi – Parents of the son- or daughter in law; A relationship based on well masked mutual contempt for each other”
“Murukku – Fried rice snack that comes in spirals of dough, the number of rings indicating the giver’s prosperity and/pr the receiver’s importance”
The prose is easy flowing, more straight to the point but also has some good metaphors which will make you think of it after some days or even use it like I do. I have highlighted a lot of lines in my kindle to use it in appropriate way. Here is something I will most likely use.
“We weren’t so bad, my mother-in-law and I, There were niggling issues, as in certain with any girl who thinks independently, I imagine. … Our relationship was more like hotter in the stove, rolling around within the vessel, but never in danger of boiling over, or spoiling the milk’
If you are a fan of Freidrick Bachman or his novels “The Anxious People” Or “The man called Owe” you will enjoy this.
If you have Tamil roots, you will love it.