A hospital waiting area, shabby walls, lines of dull-looking patients. PRASHANT, a tall, earnest-looking youngster stands by a sign that says K-CERAS in bold letters and Kerala Centre for Education, Research & Sciences in smaller letters.
JAYESH, a short, stocky young man, enters, looking agitated.
JAYESH: Where’s she?
PRASHANT: No need to panic.
JAYESH: (aggressively) Where’s she?
PRASHANT: In the ICU. Where are you going?
JAYESH: I must see her!
There’s an old saying in our family:
In a vast jungle of circular paths a hunter goes round in circles, while another finds new pathways, discarding old weapons for new-- Such is life!
It originated from an uncle named Kunjunny Raja who lived three or four generations before my mother. He goes on to explain: “Life is a series of circular paths; when you’ve completed one, another opens out and you’re free to start from scratch.”
It presents a reassuring picture of life. When the time comes, you can always make a fresh start, stepping on to a different circle armed with new choices.
The story FORT LINES is featured in this anthology published by Rupa Publications, edited by Shinie Antony. It is half short story and half play. The book includes pieces by leading writers in Malayalam and English, and those with an interest in Kerala.
"A Bold Selection"
A much needed anthology ‘Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary’ contains twenty six pieces which includes stories, plays, critical articles, travel essays, memoirs, whimsical reveries and journalistic pieces. Together they present a portrait of Kerala in all its teeming complexity and contradictions, the literary equivalent of an interesting collage made out of the many mug shots, long shots, profiles, deep focus shots and over-the-shoulder shots of the hydra-headed reality of this state.
It starts with a very personal piece by the editor, Shinie Antony, which records the author’s journey from a cosmopolitan denial of roots to the realization and acknowledgement of her identity rooted in the culture and milieu of Kerala. Susan Visvanathan’s story about a Malayali expatriate theatre actor’s journey back home is complex and told in sensuous language. M Mukundan’s ‘The Countryside’ juxtaposes the opposing values of two cultures. K Satchidanandan in his scholarly article examines the evolution of society and avant garde literature in Kerala using the French-Marxist philosopher Henri Lefebvre’s concept of ‘everyday’. He describes how the Malayali avant gardists engaged with the long-ignored but ever present ‘everyday’ by subverting the prevalent social order and by questioning the very institution of literature. Paul Zacharia’s ‘Hijack’ comments wryly on the life of a high-ranking bureaucrat.
Anita Nair’s story on the rivalry between a Malayali critic and a novelist is funny and moving while Sarah Joseph’s is an intimate story about a young woman’s toothache.
And then there are interesting pieces: the short play by Shreekumar Varma about a ruthless student activist who disrupts normal life in the city with bandhs and hartals and how a victim who has suffered at his hands avenges quietly by preventing him from appearing for his last IAS exam; a poetic take on the tsunami by the young Nimz Dean, an essay by Suresh Menon on his visit to Irinjalakuda, his hometown, an excerpt from late Stephen Padua’s autobiography which gives valuable information about the Anglo-Indians in Kerala and Hormis Tharakan’s ‘Situation Report’ which describes the complex and momentous events of Kerala in the seventies invoking Tipu Sultan and the Naxalite movement.
D Vijayamohan’s breezy piece ‘The Argumentative Malayali’ bemoans the many uncalled for controversies which have stalled industrial growth and development in Kerala and KR Gowriamma’s memoir gives precious glimpses into the development of communism in the state. MV Rappai’s article – an unexpected surprise – brings out interesting aspects of the Kerala-China connection.
Rama Varma’s article gives a bird’s eye view of the music scene in Kerala and AJ Thomas’s moving autobiographical piece on growing up in the foothills of Western Ghats paints an impressionistic landscape of the socio-cultural conditions in rural Kerala, recounting what it was like opening up to major events (viz. the Indo-China war, the sighting of comets, Nehru’s death and Kennedy’s assassination) stuck in a ‘materialistic and conservative pocket’ of communist Kerala.
Shashi Tharoor’s upbeat article speaks about the formation of a new ‘Brand Kerala’ which is different in many significant ways from the old Kerala of labour agitations and investor-friendly governments.
One must really appreciate the editor for being bold in her choice of voices: voices which have important stories to tell but are traditionally neglected in anthologies. Honestly, which anthologist would give space to the journey of a domestic help from a ‘corner of Thrissur’ to Mumbai? These are stories which need to be told and these are the ones that make the anthology special.
When Cardinal Vithayathil talks about the consumer culture that reduces the Gospel ‘into a health and wealth manual’ and when Omchery deals with the problem of female feticide, one knows that this selection of Kerala means business; that it is quite serious about examining the problems of contemporary Kerala.
Ankur Betageri in ‘The Indian Literature’
Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-Monthly Journal (May/June 2009)
about Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary
Delves deep into Kerala's psyche -- The Hindu
Like going Home – Deccan Herald
Larger than life – The Week
Beyond houseboats and honeymoons – Mid-Day
Cynicism and satire, a common trait in the Malayali, are in abundant measure in the writings here -- Business World
The KERALA event at Crossword, Bengaluru, with Shreekumar Varma, Hormis Tarakan, Shinie Antony, Anita Nair, Jayanth Kodkani. Anchored by Tony Sebastian