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MONSOON MINDS

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RAVINAMBIAR Notion Press 124 page Soft cover Rs 140

By GANESH SAILI 
After a long time comes a book that is different. By now living in the Age of Bigger-the-Better or Buy-One-Get-One-Free, one has got so used to the Block Buster, that this slim debut volume comes as a welcome relief. Maybe this should have had a statutory warning: ‘This is not a door stopper nor is it a tombstone. It is not hazardous to your health.’ And my wrist was not aching for days on end, after I put the book down.

This collection of short stories, each one carries the scent of the earth that lingers even after the clouds have departed. There is a deceptive simplicity in Ravi Nambiar’s writing. No it is not of the clever formula writing, the sort offered by creative writing courses, II that be what you prefer, then its time to move on. To persist is to be redialling a wrong number.

Monsoon Minds takes you on a journey to the imaginary village of Bhavli, in south India, a place, where the rural setting itself is a glue that holds the pages together. Its like dipping into R.K. Narayan’s fictional Malgudi Days or maybe, given some persistence Bhavli could become the Malgudi of our times. You will meet a galaxy of characters. If there be a fault, it is this: there are not enough flowers to fill up this nosegay of memories.

How many of us have memories of many an aging mother like ‘Maayi’, left behind, heartlessly, by sons’ intent on chasing rainbows while going from village to city; from one city to the other till finally they go from one country to the other for greener pastures. ‘An Old Love Story’ a young man finds himself in the big bad city, plagued by that all too familiar lump in the throat, a homesickness or a love sickness. Where can you go?

‘An old soul of Bhavli’ reminds you of the whittling away of the simple joys of rural life succumbing to, the all too common Devil of modern times that passes as ‘progress’. Even as you read, the old village, the one that you remember so vividly, stays alive but only in the recesses of the mind. Elsewhere the more things change, the more they have warped out of shape beyond recognition.

A sense of deja vous or you have-been-there-already haunt you ‘In a Case of Certainty’, For that matter you could well be in any small town in India. Sound familiar? If it does not, go to any small court wherever you happen to be. You will find: ‘the magistrate in the local sub-division court sat behind a heap of files and papers that had gathered dust of different seasons … sitting beside the judge was the court clerk, an old man dressed in black pants ad a white shirt, who handled case files.’

I admit it did not take me too long to wrap up this slim volume. Who said good things come in small packages? As I put down the book, my mind plays tricks on me. I find myself – in the Atlantis of the Mind – back another Bhavli – a little village on an outcrop, in the border district of Chamoli. A small stream, a tributary of the Ganga, rushes along the bottom of a steep rocky valley. Still, a growing sense of what we have lost in Uttarakhand will ride along with you along the banks her glacier-born torrents, the swift surge broken only by boulders and cataracts. They are reservoirs of potential hydroelectric power that we have just begun to tap. Please! No more mega schemes, just micro run-of-the-river projects.

You find most of our villages almost deserted – turned into ghost villages – where only women work in the fields. The men have run away. It means the land cannot provide sustenance and livelihood.

The more I look into the life of things, I find that in the once-upon-a-time-days, Sail village too, was once peopled by characters who may have fallen straight out of this book. And to me, at the day’s end, that is the hallmark – universalisation – it has always been and remains the touchstone of good writing.