In this beguiling novel, Ashokamitran shares with us the experiences of two men in the summer of 1964, who live and work in the film industry in Madras. Their lives are distinctly different, and yet, there is a chord which connects them, seemingly of love and of an unspoken intense familiarity. The novel works with the duties of these men, bound as they are by daily chores, where the cinema sets become the framework of their routines and identities. Every moment is somehow empty, and yet filled with the potential of what may be latent within it, undecipherable to those who do not have the code. The script writer always has to be on call, is penurious and loyal to the cine world, of which he is the creator of fantasy, his power dispelled, however by his own unmanageable life. He is first of all a writer, a shadowy figure, compassionate to all, and in turn detached and tremulous. His love for ordinary things like the making of daily coffee, his loyalty to his family, (his fear of the expectations they have of him) which is always hanging around his neck like the mariner’s albatross…all of these go into the making of the narrative.
Lower middle class life with its agonies of debt and ambition, the meagre furniture, the encompassing world of rituals to be performed on time, is a theme that the author is instinctively comfortable with. Then, he starts to play around with his protagonists and hurls them into variable spaces, where they are either looking for each other, or they are absent to one another. Illness and death haunt the pages, so do madness, drunkenness and religious custom. The women are finely drawn, each communicating the slender threads by which they hang as the only world they have, consuming the men, while being reproduced in their imaginations in turn as wife, lover, whore, servant. This shadow play is immensely frightening, because the root of occupational hazards in the film world is drawn to a space that is cunningly free of fault, for the men, since they are lambently protective of each other.
The two professional mystics who appear in the text shred the real world of any meaning, because in the torment lies the release. The many different levels at which the novel works leaves the reader clear in thought, as only a spiritual experience can provide, where the tawdry becomes an excuse for the luminescent to appear.
Susan Visvanathan is Professor of Sociology at the Jawaharlal Nehru University, and the author of Reading Marx, Weber and Durkheim Today (Palm Leaf, 2012) and Nelycinda and Other Stories (Roli Indiaink, 2012).