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The Better Man

November 2, 2008
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I picked this book at the airport. The only thing i knew then was that earlier I had read a book by the same writer and I liked it immensely. I had also suggested that book to my friends and, as is expected, received mixed reviews. The book was ‘The Ladies Coupe’.

Ladies from different walks of life, and at different stages in their lives happen to meet in a ladies coupe in a south-bound train. The scene is set in South India. Ladies slowly warm up to the occasion and speak up their stories. In India, trains are a scene of activity. People mix freely and chat volubly. The ladies are no different. The book was a delight to read. When I say I received mixed reviews for the book, I had only two people on my mind. One liked the book, and the other liked to dislike.

All this ran in my head when I held the book in my hand at the airport. I knew that this book too will have something good for me. I also noted that this was the first novel by the writer. ‘The Better Man’ is the first novel of Anita Nair. I had to read the book.

It takes all kinds of writers to make a world. A few write well. A few write much. A few write less. A Few could only give the world their first novel. Some wait for a few novels before they give their best. But almost always, the first book is a difficult book to write. There is this fear of rejection. There is this urge to give everything to the world. There is this urge to fill the book with all emotions. The first book is always the closest to the writer. The writer will either love the book the most, or hate it with passion. First books are the deciding factors. I had to pick the book. In this case, I was not to decide if the writer is good or bad. I already got to know that in ‘Ladies Coupe’. I only told myself if the second book could be good, first one should be good too; if shallow sometimes, the content definitely will be chosen with conviction.

I was not disappointed. Anita Nair is fluid. The book is a delight to read. It plays with your emotions. It tingles your sensations, it fascinates to know that the small nuances of the characters bear so much significance. Mukundan is a retired govt servant. He had always been shadowed by his father’s towering personality and he never could outgrow it. He remained a bachelor and decided to return, reluctantly, to his village, Kaikurussi. This is a small imaginary village in Kerala. He develops friendship with a painter, Bhasi. Bhasi is known to the village as one-screw-loose Bhasi for his eccentric behaviour. The rest of the story is about the friendship and the eventual breach of trust between the friends. Also in the novel are a number of other characters that remain etched in your mind. There is Shankar who manages tea stall, Che Kutty manages a wine shop, Achuthan Nair is the father of Mukundan, Powerhouse Ramakrishnan is the rich and shrewd landlord who tries to usurp Bhasi’s land to build community hall for the village. There is this brief stint of Philipose, the PostMaster who is a Christian and finds the village unsuitable for him.

What strikes the reader’s mind is the writer’s fluid interpretation of human traits, of small gestures and sighs that could mean more. The village is as sleepy as you can find, but the human bustle is equally busy. The undercurrents that run beneath the sleepy facade of the village are subtle yet effective. Not without their sting.

I don’t know what more to write. I don’t want to discuss the story here. The writer does it very well. I just felt glad to have read a good book and wanted to bring to the notice of people reading this blog.

Cheers to all!

Goodbye and God bless!

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