HOME | NOVELS | REVIEWS | PROFILES | HUMOUR | TRAVELOGUES | NEWS | FAQ | CONTACT | SITEMAP

 

Articles / Interviews on Ladies Coupé


India Today
She's Got A Ticket To Write
(By Geeta Doctor)

In the flood of "wimmen's writing" that depicts women as battered, bartered and abandoned on the shoals of low self worth, Anita Nair's second novel rides triumphantly against the tide. Second novel? Is it possible? The ink has barely dried on Nair's first one, The Better Man, that trawled with intent through fiction's latest heart of darkness, the matrilineal murkdom of Kerala, when she's produced another one. Apparently, Nair's imagination teems with stories that leap out like tiny silver fish, struggling to escape a fisherman's basket. As though to acknowledge the fact, she has signalled that her book is "a novel in parts" and indeed she seems more adept at stringing together a collection of short stories than in going for the long haul.

In Ladies Coupé Nair has resorted to one of the oldest ploys. She has taken a leaf out of Chaucer's mixed crowd of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury telling tales to each other. He himself, as is well known, borrowed from Boccacio who had his well-heeled cast of characters relating stories to each other while sitting out the plague. Nair's characters too are singularly life affirming. Though they do not confess their life stories publicly to each other while sitting in what used to be a regular feature of rail journeys, the "ladies compartment" or coupé of the title, the manner in which she has them sharing their experiences with the protagonist, Akhila or Akhilandeswari, as she becomes towards the end, assuming her full potential as a woman, quite often sounds like a female version of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Were the railways providing a hitherto unknown service to the sisterhood of women by throwing them in together for a night and a day of bonding through the boondocks of the Indian countryside? We shall never know. Part of the charm of Nair's narrative is that we are lulled into accepting her thesis. Once locked in together, it's a question of age no bar, caste no bar, sex no bar, indeed the intimacy with which the ladies discuss their sexual adventures seems to underline the message that "having sex" is destiny.

Akhila herself is the magnet for their stories. She has suddenly decided to take her life in her hands. At the age of 45, having achieved near anonymity working as a clerk in the income tax department she is suddenly filled with the idea of revolt. She decides to bolt, to take a long train journey to Kanyakumari. Are there shades of an Anita Brookner heroine here, encased in stiffly starched cotton saris and the disappointments of a lifetime of sacrifice travelling to her own Hotel Sea Breeze by the seafront? Though she might lack the subtlety of a Brookner heroine, Akhila is not without her desires. There's a hilarious description of her singular form of revolt when she wants to taste a boiled egg brought by an Anglo-Indian colleague to work and, much later, a tense moment when she discovers herself responding to the anonymous groping of a man's hand in a crowded bus.

Nair's evocation of the ordinariness of a middle-class Brahmin family struggling to keep itself afloat in Chennai, hanging on to the rigid pattern of their lives, as exemplified in the patterns of kolam traced in front of their houses and expecting an unquestioning sacrifice from the women in the family to underwrite this myth, is what powers her narrative.

Akhila and her friends are on the threshold of self-discovery. The manner in which Nair relates these transformations is in turn revelatory and redeeming. Her tale is light enough to relieve the tedium of a long journey and yet filled with the incantatory power to burn up the tracks, to seek a new destination. To change

OTHER ARTICLES

 

 

 

 

 

     HOME | NOVELS | REVIEWS | PROFILES | HUMOUR | TRAVELOGUES | NEWS | FAQ | CONTACT | SITEMAP
   Copyright© 2001-2005 Anita Nair. E-mail Anita