Cocktail of Odours
N. Kamala
THE ELEPHANT AND THE MARUTI by Radhika Jha Penguin Books, New Delhi, 2004, 243 pp., 250.00
February 2004, volume 28, No 2

The Elephant and the Maruti is a collection of six stories, three set in Delhi, the other three se: in Bangalore, Puranduru, and Geneva. While diverse in their geographical locations the common underlying thread that links them all is the sense of smell, a theme that still seems a favourite with the author of the promising debut novel called, what else but, Smell. From the fragrant to the malodorous, smell seeps into each narrative and wafts out in pleasant and unpleas­ant ways to attack the olfactory nerves. From the very first story, ‘The Wedding’, where the protagonist Barrabundla whose “core of … seductiveness, lay in the complex cocktail of odours-that enveloped her…”, odours that threaten to swamp her husband-to-be as he “Sometimes caught the dry, powder)’ smell of her upper arms in the odour of ashes, her sweat, her skin, … smell of incense and overripe fruit… smell of wet campfire…”, till the final story, ‘The Cook’, where “Both the chef and the hunter relied on the sense of smell. Smell was the silent intimation of a creature’s soul, and also the traitor and enemy of its body”, Radhika Jha evokes smell in all its nuances and shades with finesse and style. But in her eagerness to set the smelly stage to the stories, Jha shapes the narratives at the expense of the story line and the reader is left wondering where each story is heading.

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