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P. Radhika

VARANASI
By M.T. Vasudevan Nair . Translated by N. Gopalakrishnan
Orient BlackSwan, Noida, 2014, pp. 211, Rs. 740.00

VOLUME XXXVIII NUMBER 10 October 2014

It is doubtful whether even the most confirmed admirers of M.T. Vasudevan Nair’s novels will judge Varanasi (2002) as a mature or profound work. The reason?  Certainly not the lack of good, solid ingre-dients in the composition. Paradoxically, plenitude seems to cause the narrative to implode under its own weight. It has an evocative setting, a huge cast of characters, a relatively heavy plot and a set of universal themes that leave the slim novel (running to less than 200 pages) bursting at its seams.  And the achronological method of narration, though intended to add suspense to the story, actually gives it a cluttered feel.  Varanasi is essentially about a peripatetic character Sudhakaran whose frequent shifts in profession and change of lovers are decided more by an urge to run away from responsi-bilities and commitment than by a desire for new experiences or greater adventure. As he moves from Kerala to Bombay, Bangalore, Varanasi, Madras and finally returns to Varanasi, he leaves an unbelievably long trail of broken love affairs and distraught women —the innocent Soudamini, the bold and forthright Gita, the manipulative Shanta, the whimsical Sumita and the warm-hearted Madelyn—and a couple of unseen sons.  Sudhakaran is equally adept at moving from one job to another.  He works as a proof reader in a newspaper office, as a copy writer at an advertisement firm, a researcher at a university, a lecturer in a college and finally a member of the Indian Civil Services.   Such a rolling stone syndrome—at the personal and the professional fronts—hints at an intellectually and emotionally nuanced core in Sudhakaran’s personality but this fertile soil is scarcely tilled by M. T.  In fact, the novelist virtually scorches the narrative ground by making his itinerant hero an escape artiste, thus leaving no room for development of character.  An unusual phenomenon, considering M. T.’s enormous talent for portraying brooding, introspective figures.  The result is that readers only get to skim the surface of Sudhakaran’s nature; they are denied the heady experience of getting sucked into the whirlpools of his emotions and thoughts. Perhaps that is why when the predominantly worldly and sensual hero decides to arrange for his own obsequies (atma pindom) at the end of the novel, it comes as a volte-face.  The readers had hardly been prepared for this precipitate display of piety or religious faith. What eventually comes to ...


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