When Kalyan Raman, the translator of this book, put up the covers of three new Penguin Ashokamitran translations on Twitter earlier this year, I was overjoyed I ve always loved the Modern Classics productions the quiet, sometimes playful seriousness of the covers seem to celebrate the idea of books itself as works of art to be contemplated, discussed, and enjoyed There is also this unique feeling of nostalgia the photographs and illustrations on the covers of these editions evoke, something akin to what the Portuguese call saudade, a feeling of intense longing for something that we perhaps have never really experienced, but seem to miss intimately.With the cover of this particular book, I had no such problem I could miss the real thing I have watched the Madras MRTS train speed through the Meenambakkam station in this very way, and felt some of the things the protagonist feels My Meenambakkam is extraordinarily different from the Meenambakkam of this 1988 book, and yet, I seem to understand the slow, private Madras of that time This is an emotion only someone who has lived in, and loved the Tamil capital will understand that even though it is now a bustling, loud, non stop metropolis at its heart, Madras remains a small town It still moves to the beats of the Tamil hamlet, its rhythms are still dictated by the Tamil festival calendar And its evenings can be sad things the breeze warm, the darkness sudden, and the air tight, coiled up, with the congested dreams of normal, ordinary people who have come to the big city to make a life.It is this private drama within an individual in a city that Ashokamitran explores I first encountered this in his Manasarovar also translated by Kalyan Raman , a brooding tale that left me with a sense of loss The Ghosts of Meenambakkam is similar in the sense that it is also a very grim narrative, but entwined as it is true events and a commentary on personal tragedy, it is also a very different book I m trying hard not to reveal plot details, because in such a taut narrative, even a slight aside may ruin its effect, which is incredibly haunting I read it in a single setting, and though the tension in the pages, intensely personal, made me tear my eyes away for a moment or two, I was never able to put it down This is incredible mastery of both the writer s and translator s art.As the translator points out in his introduction, the quality of Ashokamitran s writing can be deciphered in the weight of the things left unsaid This is what The Ghosts of Meenambakkam does too There are allusions, foreign names, veiled references, sidesteps Putting them together is up to you, and it is through this that the story becomes than just a story.As my father nears retirement, he maintains a voluminous collection of stories essays travelogues cut out from the extraordinary number of Tamil magazines he buys There is a whole folder dedicated to Ashokamitran, and its lovingly annotated pages indicated to me the stature of this writer I have only come to discover in English This, then, is the only gripe I have a personal sense of shame that I can only read the great masters of my own language in English I intend to change that soon, but in the meantime, I m thankful for these translations.Very highly recommended. I had absolutely no idea this was going to be a thriller is it even Judging by the cover and the blurb, you d imagine a quiet contemplative dialogue between two strangers at Meenambakkam Airport a novel I d have loved to read something along the lines of The Sunset Limited With the sudden introduction of murderers and secrets in the air, you slowly realize the author has other plans, sink deeper into your bed, and get ready to be taken on a different ride than the one you thought you were on.There s something unmistakably cinematic about the present sharp cut to flashback present structure of the narrative On the last page, I found myself thinking not about the narrator, but about Sylvia and Dhalpathado And for some reason found myself singing Love Will Tear Us Apart by Joy Division, a strangely apt tune for the tragic end Their tangent injected a lot of drama into the story without being mentioned too often, and it s used expertly at the novel s conclusion I think that s what going to stick with me, along with the Lalitha flashback and the narrator s regret about not knowing his daughter.Sidenote 1 Ashokamitran Vivek ShanbaghIn the preface, translator N Kalyan Raman classifies Ashokamitran s narrative technique as documentary realism His description of the term however reminds me of another celebrated South Indian author, Vivek Shanbagh I loved his 2017 book Ghachar Ghochar for it s subdued narration, simple prose, and as Raman puts it in the preface of this book, for describing the surface of events choosing the details with great care but never spelling out what they might mean That s true for both of them, and both of them use the art of leaving things unsaid in different ways While Ashokmitran s generous with the blunt emotional triggers and puts unspoken tangents to great use, Shanbagh is subtle and a closer proponent of documentary realism.Sidenote 2 Cannot do the reader the injustice of not linking this brilliant profile of Ashokamitran by Arvind Adiga Enjoy After having read Aravind Adiga s piece on Ashokamitran several years ago, I kept his name stored away at the back of my head, keeping a lookout for his works in translation I finally found a stack of them at Words Worth in Besant Nagar.This book starts off a bit confused, but as it progresses, the confusion makes sense The plot as such is very basic and only has two or three real movements The narrator of the book, who is unnamed, has to deal with the ghosts of his past, literally and otherwise It s primarily a story of loss and suffering, and of departures And of how time wears us all down, numbing us, changing us, and pushing us along, like rocks in a stream And at 150 pages, you re soon ready for your own departure.The writing is crisp and leaves a lot of space for the reader to read between the lines There s often left unspoken than there is explicitly stated, bringing to mind Tolstoy s shorter works There is no overly descriptive prose, yet it is not too minimalist either The real heart of the book is reserved for the dialog, the inner monologue, and all those unsaid thoughts It s where the book really shines The translation is top notch and smooth, and as someone who can speak Tamil, I could detect a connect with the source language in the translation style Apart from that, it captures the vibe of Chennai life perfectly, and the utter loneliness you find in this giant city The descriptions of the thoughts you have at suburban railway stations struck a chord with me The description of middle class life is subdued and less embellished than you might expect from Indian English authors, and feels very authentic. Another 5 star I had questions than answers at the end of the book What was the narrator s name Was Dalpathado a terrorist or was he a vengeful lover Did he the concoct the whole spy story Was he following the narrator s movements And kudos to the translator for doing a fantastic job Look forward to reading Paavam Dalpathado One Dark And Stormy Night , Dalpathado Unexpectedly Crosses Paths With The Narrator Of Meenambakkam Airport The Faceless, Middle Aged Man From Dalpathado S Past Is Mourning The Unexpected Death Of His Daughter In A Plane Crash After They Spend A Dangerous Night In Each Other S Company, Lashed By Rain And Reminiscence, Neither Man Remains The Same The Ghosts Of Meenambakkam Is A Meditation On The Violence That Detonates Human Lives And The Idea Of Love That Endures All Mayhem , Even In Death An amazing work of Ashokamitran, very well translated by Kalyan Raman The book is a fast paced thriller, set in the backdrop of Meenambakkam With brilliant balance between the emotions portrayed, suspense created and pace adopted, the book keeps you stay hooked to it until the last page, and longer Characters choose not to leave, and incidents keep haunting.I am so glad that I discovered such a gem of an author Already looking for of Ashokamitran books, and all thanks to Kalyan Raman Highly recommended.
Ashokamitran was one of the most influential figures in post independent Tamil literature He began his literary career with the prize winning play Anbin Parisu , followed by many short stories, novellas and novels A distinguished essayist and critic, he is the editor of the literary journal Kanaiyaazhi He has written over 200 short stories, eight novels, some 15 novellas besides other prose
- 151 pages
- Paavam Dalpathado
- 12 April 2019 Ashokamitran