I have been getting behind on my reading of Malayalam literature, which is a shame, considering it's my mother tongue. So this vacation while I am in Kerala, I have decided to read a few of the "new" authors (new to me, that is - I'm about twenty-five years behind!) at random. I picked up this slim volume of stories by K.R.Meera. I'm glad that I did.Guillotine
by K.R.Meera contains seven very short stories: short in length, but long on impact. This author knows how to use language mercilessly and ruthlessly, with a razor-sharp edge to her words, so the title for the collection becomes extremely apt. Meera has a style which uniquely identifies her: this is a comparatively rare thing in Malayalam. After V.K.N and Zacharia, she is the first writer whom I have come across who takes care in framing her story in such a way that the telling becomes as important as the content.
Death and illicit love are two of the main themes which intertwine in the stories: sometimes, it is difficult to separate the two. In one tale, lovers frantically consummate their love after waiting for thirty years, as government-sponsored goons hack them down. In another, a woman chances to take part in the funeral of a gay man, finally understanding the pain of her gay husband whom she had hounded to death. And in the title story, the story of Charlotte Corday and Robespierre is juxtaposed with that of the protagonist and her revolutionery lover-the same way the image of the guillotine is superimposed with the razor blades with which they attempt suicide.
For me, the most powerful story in the book was Naikkolam
("The Dog Avatar"), which talks about the heartbreaking ordeal of HIV infected children in Kerala without being sentimental. It also pokes fun at the press in its role as the "watchdog" of democracy. In Malayalam, there is a saying: "If you take on a dog avatar, you must be prepared to bark". Well, the press barks - but mostly for the powers that be and the moneybags. Meera has proved through this short gem that a poignant tale can also be a biting satire.
I will most definitely be reading more of Meera's works in the future. Four very well-deserved stars.