The spy in fer tenderness

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Mridula Koshy’s mature idiom makes you forget it is a debut collection

K Satchidanandan

IF IT IS SWEET
Mridula Koshy
Tranquebar Press
284 pp; Rs 295

WHAT EVEN a casual reader notices about Mridula Koshy’s If It Is Sweet is the diversity of the forms the author employs. From flashbacks to monologues and collages, from simple three-page stories like ‘Intimations of a Greater Truth’ to longer complex narratives like ‘Companion’ and ‘Today is the Day’. The second is the everyday matrix of the stories: they seem to be happening in our own neighbourhood, among people we daily run into on the street, in the office or in the marketplace. Most of these are untold stories of the invisible people around us: the koodawalla, the maid servant, the single parent, the old woman, pubescent girls. There is a rawness about these stories that comes not from a lack of intellectual sophistication but from the forthrightness of the narration and the uninhibited portrayal of emotions. The writer is clearly a close observer of life, her own and of others around her, almost a spy who pries into their private moments of love, intimacy, fear, jealousy, proximity to death. The erotic is an organic part of her poetics as story after story deals with close encounters between men and women as well as women and women. So is suffering: poverty, emotional deprivation, abandonment, alienation, orphanhood, solitude. The empathy with the lonely and the dispossessed is complete in these stories and the drama takes place mostly in the theatre of the mind, not outside.

It may not be wise to look for a parallel world in these stories like the ones created by Italo Calvino, Jorge Luis Borges, Franz Kafka, Patrick Suskind, García Márquez, Haruki Murakami or Angela Carter. But this is amply compensated by the minute observations of the world and a mature idiom that makes you forget it’s a debut collection: “This girl who came to live in Ali Gaanv was tall and dark; her front teeth, the two sharp ones, stuck out. These two teeth of hers gave her smile a quality of something else, something that was not there anywhere else in her face. Something like the feeling when a word you hear and don’t know the meaning of becomes suddenly full of meaning…” That is Dolly from ‘P.O.P’. There are many who materialise in a wealth of detail: Shanta Dal of ‘Not Known’, Renu and Suroma of ‘Stray Blades of Grass’, Mona of ‘Romancing the Koodawalla’, Kaavi of ‘3-2-1, First Time’, Emma of ‘When the Child was a Child’, Chachiji of ‘Today is the Day’, Kareena of ‘Jeans’, the bereaved woman of ‘The Good Mother’. Not that there are no men, but women are the real characters, men mostly unfortunately inevitable presences in a world of strong-willed, desiring females.

What counts more than the narrative is the language — tender, poetic, informed by our mutilingual milieu. The stories retrieve to fiction, if not to history, marginalised lives around us. But they aren’t shown as objects of condescending pity, but as real beings with their own joys and longings. They together make a statement about power in its myriad manifestations, from capitalism to patriarchy.

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