The Rain Makers

Sunday, January 5, 2003

Anita Nair brings together a range of expected and really
unexpected writers to provide the reader a glimpse
into the conundrum that Kerala is

Where the Rain is Born
Writings about Kerala
Ed by Anita Nair
New Delhi: Penguin, 2002,
pp 315, Rs 395

It is no mean task to bring together "voices that haven't succumbed to the sheer beauty of Kerala and who have been able to decipher, if not appreciate, the conundrum that Kerala is". One would simply, uncritically welcome any such collection. And so, it's with genuine pleasure that one discovers the Penguin collection of writings on Kerala -enchantingly titled Where the Rain is Born - and edited by Bangalore's own Keralite, Anita Nair, coming so close to this claim.

The 34 authors in the table of contents are a tantalising mix of expected, unexpected and really unexpected names. So while one knows that the voices of Basheer, M T Vasudevan Nair, O V Vijayan or Kamala Das are bound to be heard in Where the Rain is Born, and one is pleasantly surprised to meet the likes of a Rushdie (speaking in The Moor's Last Sigh), what is really pleasing are the many writers one mostly sees only in newspaper columns and the like. In this category are Suresh Menon, Vijay Nambisan, Ravi Menon, Ammu Joseph, Geetha Doctor, Jayanth Kodkani and more.

However, not all of these writers live up to one's (perhaps unfair) expectations and the book's stated goal of writing about the under-the-surface of the Kerala experience is forgotten as too many literal accounts of the psychological and emotional terrain of the Malayali appear on page after page.

Geetha Doctor's "Mundu, meesha, kumbha koda:The sartorial splendour of the Malayali male" is a hilarious and vastly insightful bit of writing on the Malayali man. Thoroughly enjoyable, it is undoubtedly one of the most readable pieces in the book.

Ammu Joseph's " Fool's Paradise?" which is about women in Kerala, though very different is just as readable. The piece has the distinction of being the only one that explicitly writes of the women's side of life in Kerala.

Where the Rain is Born is not all prose; there is some poetry -- by Balachandran Chullikad, Ayyappa Panikker, Jeeth Thayil and Kamala Das. While Chullikad's poem is typical of the kind of writing he did during the period when he earned fame, it was probably the wrong note to begin the book on. But then, as you turn the pages, there is so much variety and a predominance of interesting writing (including the editor's introduction) that you soon forget the ghastly poem.

The extracts from novels make interesting reading, juxtaposed between other kinds of writing. These extracts are from old and new, from Malayali and non-Malayali and from Kerala-based writers as well as those outside Kerala. There are chapters from Chemmeen, The Legends of Khasak, Butter chicken in Ludhiana, Hangman's Journal, Ancient Promises and others. Each one of these reflects some nuance of Kerala and all of them together give the reader an enticing glimpse of the "conundrum that Kerala is."
One has no reservations in recommending this book to readers, especially since it comes with a beautifully blue cover and some lovely black and white photographs inside.

At the end of Where the Rain is Born, a couple of pieces leave one wanting to read more from the same writers  C V Raman Pillai's Martanda Varma, Jayanth Kodkani, Shreekumar Varma, Ravi Menon and Alexander Frater.

Then there are pieces that you wish the editor had exercised a little more discretion.
This seems to be the season of authors turning editors everywhere and one is happy to see that Anita Nair shows flair for the job. Where the Rain is Born is a collection worth having on any bookshelf; you don't have to be a "certain" kind of person to enjoy the pieces in this collection and that's definitely one of the nice things about it.

Kala Krishnan Ramesh