Basudeb critiques the novels of Anita Nair, in the weekly column, exclusively in Different Truths.
Shornur at the district of Palakkad, Kerala, is Anita Nair’s birth place. She was born on 26 January 1966. She got her college education in Madras. After obtaining the B.A. degree with Major in English literature she returned to Kerala. Now she is settled in Bangalore. She emerges as a writer of fiction immediately after the publication of her first collection of short stories, Satyr of the Subway in 1997. This publication helps her receive the fellowship at Virginia Centre for the Creative Arts. The most eye arresting and important novels are The Better Man (2000), Ladies Coupe (2001), Mistress(2005), Idris (2014), a historical novel and Chain of Custody. A faithful observer of Indian life and society, Anita Nair believes in the improvement of Mankind that underlines Man’s ethical evolution.
Leslie Stephen, the father of Virginia Woolf, the editor of The Cornhill Magazine in London, which published Thomas Hardy’s novels and short stories in installments. Stephen consciously shifted his interest and attention from the ‘Religion of God’ to the ‘Religion of Humanism’. According to Stephen, Man is to undergo a kind of transformation from egotism to altruism at the cost of the happiness in his life. This sacrifice of Man’s happiness is not discernible in Comte’s view of Man’s ethical evolution. The war between traditional views of life and the new outlook, new norms, and values generated by the wonderful inventions of science and by the illuminating theses of philosophical thinkers and writers like Charles Darwin, Herbert Spencer, and Leslie Stephen created crises and confusions in the minds of the Victorian Period in England.
Anita Nair definitely shares definitely these crises and contradictions in the society to which she belongs. A Bangalore-based writer perhaps observes with her transparent glasses the contemporary Indian society. Shifting of attention from the ‘Religion of God’ to the ‘Religion of Humanism’ was a favourite discourse that was in the air of the Victorian sky in England. But Anita Nair, being a novelist of the first quarter of the twenty-first century observes the perennial war between the good and the bad, between the vice and the virtue in India in general and the Bangalore in particular. Bangalore is the most sophisticated and prosperous city in India particularly for its sky like development in Information Technology. All most all corporate companies in India have their establishment in this city of huge future possibilities. The city’s affluence arrests everyone attention. In this connection, a comment made by Bakhtin may be relevant. The comment is that every wealth has a crime in its background. Leslie Stephen with his belief in man’s ethical evolution was relevant to his time.
Anita Nair with her belief in man’s immense possibility of transforming himself from the evil to the good is relevant today. An imaginary village, called Kaikurussi is the locale of The Better Man. The village is in the northern part of Kerala. This is a poverty stricken area. During the Colonial period, it was called Malabar. At the age of eighteen, Mukundan flees from his village owing to certain undesirable events. Mukundan, an elderly bachelor after his retirement from the government service is circumstantially forced to return to his village, Kaikurussi, his birth place. He starts staying at his ancestral house. He is distressed by his feeling of failure in his life after he settles himself in his village. The atmosphere of the village is alien to him and he cannot cope up himself with the villagers’ way of life. After his return to his native village, he meets Bhasi who is a house painter and quack practitioner of medicine.
Bhasi by applying his medicine tries to cure Mukundan’s so called psychological problems. After sometimes it is found the medicine Bhasi applies to Mukundan is fake or redundant. The most influential powerhouse Ramakrishnan whimsically decides to build a community hall in the village and for this site, he selects the land of Bhasi. Later on, Ramakrishnan feels the pulse of Mukundan and his ambition. He convinces Mukundan of his plan and Mukundan agrees to become one of committee member of that Community Hall in that village. Mukundan deserts Bhasi and Anjana, the woman whom he loves. He thinks that he has not betrayed anyone and whatever he has done for building the Community Hall is for the benefit of the village. After the death of his father and his desertion of Bhasi and Anjana, he realises that he has done great blunders. He tries to mend himself. He finally finds the nook of his love and happiness. The novelistic vision is that a man has the potentiality to be happy and capable of understanding what is good and what is bad.
Anita Nair shows man’s journey from man’s misunderstanding to man’s ability to find out the path what is good in life through the character of Mukundan.
Ladies Coupe is a novel of different taste. The novel shows woman’s journey from thralldom to Independence. It is a novel that shows women’s search for their empowerment. Akhila, an unmarried woman, 45 years old, a clerk in the Income Tax department once decides to visit Kanyakumari. On her way, she meets five women in the ladies coupe of the train. They are Janaki, a pampered wife, and a loving mother, who is totally confused about what she is, Margaret Shanti, Prabha Devi, Sheela, and Marikolanthu. These women have one common story that makes them suffer in writhing pain.
Janaki now thinks that she remains under the custody of her father before her marriage. After her marriage, her custodian is her husband and in the last leg of her life, she will be under the care of her sons. The harrowing tale of Janaki reminds us one of the poems “Introduction” which Kamala Das has written. Kamala Das is one of the earliest feminist woman poets in India. The protagonist of the novel is Akhila. Her mother believes in traditional Indian woman’s values of life. The patriarchal society in India holds the opinion that woman is inferior to her husband in every respect. And Akhila’s mother tries to inculcate this view into the mind of a daughter since her childhood. Finally, Akhila tries to find her own identity.
Janaki thinks that she is the person who always under the protection of someone in her life. She is never independent. At the end of the story, she realizes that an ideal wife and a mother can also be strong and independent in life. One important aspect of woman’s role in life the novel Ladies Coupe underlines: Can a woman practice the celibacy in life? Do woman’s independence and strength lie in not getting married in life?
Anita Nair’s most remarkable crime novel is Chain of Custody. The locale of this novel is Bangalore, Indian Silicon city and so one of the poshest and prosperous state capitals in India. Naturally, Bangalore attracts all sorts of crimes. Borei Gowda is an investigating inspector of the police. He is of multiple identities. He is very emotional and quick tempered. The investigation of a thirteen-year-old girl results in the discovery of one fact that the city is the center of “the sex-trafficking of young girls”. The novelist with all her sincerity of delineating the criminal activities taking place in the city of her own choice presents Inspector Gowda, who is doggedly determined in his mission and a very efficient officer in his fight against this crime. Finally, he wins over in unearthing the source of evils. Crimes like child slavery in this city is also an important narrative in this novel.
Anita Nair in her novels thus shows man’s evolution from the state of the wrong to the state of the right. Even in Ladies Coupe readers find the women characters undergo a kind evolution in their understanding of lives.
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