Man­jula Narayan

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Comment - ■ man­[email protected]

KMa­da­vane’s sto­ries are un­like any­thing you’ve read in a long time. They re­call the su­per­nat­u­ral hor­ror of Poe and An­gela Carter, the re­vul­sion that rises at the end of The Vis­i­tor from Roald Dahl’s Switch Bitch, the sick­en­ing sud­den lurch to­wards death in RK Narayan’s The English Teacher, and the im­pos­si­bil­ity of es­cape in Som­er­set Maugham’s Ap­point­ment in Sa­marra. Orig­i­nally writ­ten in French – the book flap says the au­thor went to school at the Lycee Fran­cais de Pondich­ery – and trans­lated into English by Blake Smith, the seven sto­ries in this slim vol­ume, all some­how con­nected to the city of Ba­naras, Benares, Kashi, Varanasi, the eter­nal gate­way to lives and worlds be­yond, con­tem­plate Fate, Death, the In­evitable.

The first story, A Paper­boat on the Ganges, be­gins at the Lycee in Pondicherry de­tail­ing petty racism in the class room and play­ing field. For a rigidly re­al­is­tic writer, this would have pro­vided enough ma­te­rial. Ma­da­vane is in­ter­ested in deeper truths and the reader be­comes con­scious of her in­creas­ing dread as she’s drawn into Fougerre’s story with its un­bear­able loss and de­scent into mad­ness. Fougerre calls to mind the relentless suf­fer­ing of Job in the Old Tes­ta­ment so it feels log­i­cal that the next story, Your King­dom for a Lie, is about Raja Har­ishchan­dra, the leg­endary king, the play­thing of In­dra and war­ring bad tem­pered sages, who wouldn’t ut­ter a lie though his hon­esty leaves him bereft of fam­ily and so­cial stand­ing, re­duced at last to an out­caste wash­ing bod­ies in the Ganga be­fore burn­ing them:

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