Sunday, March 3, 2013

Satyr of the Subway - Anita Nair

Read the collection of short stories 'Satyr of the Subway' by Anita Nair (first published in 1997). It was her first work of fiction and won her much critical acclaim. In these short stories Anita gives a whiff of what's to come in her future books as she shoots straight and hard with her themes and characters being shamelessly themselves - with all the shades of darkness and grays. Anita's style is rich and her use of the language is evocative and lyrical which makes the contrast to the characters and their darkness even more exciting. You know when you read her works that she believes that 'good' is good, but 'bad' is more interesting; perhaps more real. This book is like an interesting person you'd like to know more of as each layer comes off.

Short stories for me are a bit like poetry; sometimes I just don't get it. Or even if I do, they don't stay. So I assess short stories in my own way - their stickiness to my mind. Typically in a collection of stories I have one that sticks to my mind. In this collection of 15 stories the 'Hippoman' stands out for me. Something about that story stays with me almost scene by scene - it's like a movie almost and I am surprised it does that to me because only one other short story by Roald Dahl stays with me so clearly. But having said that almost all of the other stories in this collection of stories by Anita Nair have highly interesting themes and I enjoyed reading them.

The first story 'Satyr of the Subway' sets the tone with the story of a ruthless old man who preys on young women and gets them hook or crook. But then it is also about how both the parties use one another of course - when someone gives there has to be someone who receives. 'The Witch's Wife's Tale' is a haunting story of how a woman has immense power in her hands but can do nothing with it as she doubts her deservability of that power. I loved the idea - how many of us have let our own doubts kill our immense power that god granted us. I liked the idea of 'Mistress of the Night' too, of a man wanting someone to call his own, even if it's paid for and momentary. Just the thought that one can access unconditional and non-judgmental companionship makes it so comforting. How many relationships are shams where one cannot speak of one's most intimate fears and doubts, likes and dislikes. 'The Karmic Cat' is the story of the jealous cat and is all too real - reminded me of a horror movie from Hollywood. 'Come to bed, my pretty' is about the man who is so considerate and affectionate to his partner's needs and wants that he is always waiting to do things for her and never what he feels. 'A Prayer for Sax' is about a woman and the day she probably dreads the most, a misfortune that befalls her young. 'A Thanksgiving Tale' is about a lonely woman who is invited, or rather invites her self to a Thanksgiving party at an Indian's house in New York and the rather unsavoury consequences of wanting love or friendship so badly. 'Mercury Woman' is about an Indian woman in a lesbian relationship in the US who has to put off her family and prospective grooms and finds the perfect solution. 'Two out of three ain't bad' is about an older woman and her fantasy of meeting a blind date who she could marry.The setting at Koshy's Bangalore makes it all so visual - I'll always remember that story when i walk into Koshy's next.

The themes are interesting and vividly distinct from one another ad one expects no less from Anita who in my opinion strives to explore new paths all the time. But it is what she does to the story with her writing that makes Anita immensely readable. Worth a read for her tone and voice, the way she tells her stories and mostly for the boldness of the themes - Anita makes her stories far more real than most.

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