Thursday, April 19, 2012

Nampally Road - Meena Alexander

This book authored by Meena Alexander is of special importance to me. Meena is a poet and a literary figure, based in New York, and it was a pleasure meeting her when she came to the Hyderabad Literary Festival 2012. I had not read many novels set in Hyderabad before and it was only at the HILF that I knew of 'Nampally Road' written by her (and later came across 'The Eighteenth Parallel' by Asokamitran thanks to Vinod). Meena set her story in a Hyderabad of the late seventies when she was teaching at the Golden Threshold on Nampally Road. Forming the backdrop is one dark page in Hyderabad's history, the gang rape of a young woman Rameeza Bee by policemen in the Nallakunta police station and the murder of her husband in 1976 which brought three quarters of the city under curfew.

The story starts with young Mira, studying in England, getting a job to teach at the Golden Threshold in Hyderabad. She decides to take up the job and meets her friend Siddharth who is in England to study as well, has an English girlfriend and appears to be studying her more than his course. Siddharth directs Mira to his home near Abids where his mother Dr. Gokhale, a Maharashtrian gynaecologist who lives alone in an old house close to the Golden Threshold with her help. Mira is invited to stay with her and she accepts, meets and falls in love with a Marxist colleague, Ramu. (This relationship is a bit vague even with all the lovemaking scenes as I found no connect between the two characters.) The situation in the state is rather delicate with an authoritarian Chief Minister Limca Gowda and his band of musclemen who are named Eveready men. The government imposes all kinds of taxes and the common man is suffering. The law of the land is oppressive. Mira meanwhile is making love to her Marxist friend Ramu, wondering poetically about the doctor, her woman servant, her neighbour, her students at college - when somewhere in the background the gang rape by the policemen happens. The people are concerned, the police station attacked, the woman rescued and visited by the rather foggy headed Mira. At the same time the Chief Minister's birthday celebrations are on and in the end something happens to them in the end - a fire of sorts and Rameeza is avenged.

It is a poet's view of the story. It is her own indulgence with her feelings, her wants and needs and you never know when she is dreaming and fantasising, and when it is real. Though the story appears to be dealing with something real and outrageous, Mira appears concerned with how to write poetically the blood on the victim's hair. One feels nothing for the victim and perhaps we are not meant to. It is after all Mira's story - her interest in other people reflecting her own attempts at grappling with making some sense of it. The story comes packaged in a cloud, and passes on like that. I could not get the references to Limca Gowda, to the Eveready men though Rameeza is mentioned. (Why is the doctor called Little Mother I failed to fathom and not what one would call her normally.) What was interesting to me was the reference to almost all the landmarks I knew in the late seventies and early eighties (the same time the novel is set - obviously Meena was teaching then at the Golden Threshold). I studied at All Saints High School at the same time and walked all the way to the Exhibition grounds with my brother, window shopping. Husains bookstore, the sports stores near Taj Mahal Hotel, the theatres, the little toy store Wonderland on Nampally Road, the Asiad Sports Store  on Nampally Road where I bought many table tennis balls, the CLS bookstore, Annapurna Hotel, the Supermarket, the impressive Golden Threshold and so on. Meena brings that area to life again - Sagar Talkies, CLS bookstore, Mohan's Bar, the GPO and it was so much fun to read of a Hyderabad I knew. The story by itself was not much to my liking but it is obviously for the more poetic at heart. Meena's language however is impeccable and lovely to read. It certainly serves a notice on me to incorporate more of that Hyderabad in my Hyderabad based novel 'The Misfit'.

1 comment:

Miss Wordbug said...

Hey, I appreciate your work here. The reference to Little Mother should be because she takes after Mira's own mother in regard to love and care. We can see Mira recollecting her cherished moments with her mother. And as for her obsession with places, it is one of the characteristics of Alexander's novels. In myriad instances does she throw readers to mundane lives of local folks, which is, as you might say, superfluous. This novel revolves around Mira's search for identity. And identity formation has to do with memory, place and language in her case.