Publishers: Penguin India, Mercure
de France, France.
REAL CROC TEARS
Set like a medieval tapestry, this fantastic novel
offers a rich petit point set with animals, people,
trees, the sea, prodigal sons and warring parents,
passionate romances and gothic fortresses. It begins
with the return of Nikhil Figgis, a young theatre
director from New York, to Chennai. Within minutes
of his arrival, a taxi driver makes off with his suitcase
that contains a precious copy of the book, Georgetown,
which he wishes to adapt into a play.
We then meet Apu, who runs a detective agency. Nikhil
hires her to locate S.K. Naidu—who turns out
to be a cross between Salinger and Miss Havisham,
lives in a fortress-like house and entertains no visitors.
He is also Nikhil’s long-lost father and the
author of Georgetown.
Delicately, Murari weaves Apu, her family and Nikhil’s
estranged American wife, Renee, into the plot. Human
relationships and a comic under plot that involves
a crocodile in Nikhil’s bathtub intertwine like
a tangle of bright skeins. The crocodile wraps itself
around Nikhil’s heart and when, at the end,
he releases it into a river, both their Homeric journeys
come to a dramatic close. In terms of sheer audacity
and the liberties he takes with his tale, few can
match Murari’s Arrangements of Love. OUTLOOK.
Le coeur entre deux mondes
A partir des themes de la famille et de l’exil,
de un roman enivrant sur I’Inde d’aujourd’hui
LES ARRANGEMENTS DE L’AMOUR
Traduit de L’anglais (Inde) par Pierre Charras.
Mercure de France 24 €
Il ne taut pas simplement lire Les Arrangements de
l’amour mais d’abord lui preter l’oreille.
Comme on écoule un chant, dont la melodie nous
est radicaleiment étrangère. Comme on
se laisse envelopper par une sidérante mélopee.
Nous voilà en Inde, du cote de Madras. Les
rues exhalent ses effluves, ceux des bhajis et des
dosas prëparës dans quelque gargote et ses
partums venus de la fraicheur des jardins ou s’enhardit
la fleur de Jasmin que les jeunes femmes aiment a
porter au poignet. Un peu plus loin, a peine sorti
de la ville, l’horizon rosit sous le soleil
qui darde ses rayons sur les champs de piments rouges,
rivallsant avec l’éclat des plantations
C’est dans cet univers saturé d’odeurs
et de couleurs que Nikhul, un jeune homme d’ori-
gine indienne né et élevé aux
Etats-Unis débarque un jour pour y chercher
le pere qu’il croyait mort. Une quête
racontee a quatre voix. Celle de Nikhil, le fils:
celle de la mere, Susie, qui a émigré
aux Etats-Unis, fuyant sa culture, reniant jusqu’à
son propre prénom Indien; celle du pére,
reclus, inconsolable depuis le depart de Susie, qui
ne sait plus ce qu’amour veut dire et enfin
celle d’une jeune detective, Apu, la belle Indienne.
Des voix qu se relaient les unes les autres, confessant
leurs amours dans la secret de leur sollioque.
Cette qu du pere sert de pretext a Timeri N Murari
pour s’amuser a travers le personnage de Nikhui,
a mettre en scene non pas le choc mais le frotterment
de deux civilisations que ne séparent pas seulement
quelques milliers de kilométres. Une societe
liberal face a une société administree,
le mariage d’amour contre le mariage arrange,
le rationnel contre la superstition... L’affaire
semble entendue. Et pourtant Timeri N. Murari considère
ces deux mondes dans leur complexite, avec autant
d’agacements que de tendresse contenue.
COUP DE COEUR
MADRAS MON AMOUR
Qu’il soit rarement a la hauteur de nos espérances,
se fasse attendre, blesse ou transporte, on n’échappe
pas a l’amour. Les trois personnages de Timeri
N. Murari, ex-joumaliste au < Guardian et auteur
du best-seller Taj > se debattent entre raison
et sentiments. Nikhil, metteur en scene indien elevé
a New York, pas vraiment remis de son recent divorce
avec une actrice blonde, débarque a Madras
pour y chercher son père, un mystérieux
écrivain disparu de la circulation. Pour le
retrouver, il fait appel a Apu, detective privee sexy
et émancipée qui, après la perte
de son grand amour, a épousé le candidat
ideal selon sa mere un riche Indien installe aux Etats-Unis
et en quête d’une épouse en sari.
C’est aussi cc dont parle l’auteur; l’oscillation
perpetuelle de ses concitoyens entre modernité
et tradition. On reve de culture américaine
et de liberte, mais on retoune au pays pour se chercher
une épouse (proposée sur un plateau
par les parents), on vit a Chicago ou a Houston, mais
pas question de renoncer au principe de la dot (pourtant
interdite en Inde !). A Madras, malgré so bonne
volonte, le jeune auteur se sentira aussi paumé
que le crocodile qu’il a frouvé dans
la baignoire de sa chambre d’hôtel ! C’est
drôle, grave et léger a la fois, comme
l’amour, parfois. ELLE
MANY FACETS OF LOVE.
THE TITLE of this book, with the added adjunct that
it is "a rollicking exploration of love in its
many guises" can make you want to read it for
the wrong reasons. You may know that the author has
written for the stage, directed (I didn’t. The
idiot AP did) his own film called The
Square Circle. that he also won acclaim for
directing (yes I did) the stage presentation at Leicester
Haymarket Theatre; above all, that his earlier
novel Taj got Bill Aitken
to say in the Sunday Observer that "only a masterly
historical novelist like Timeri Murari could skate
so teasingly near the lip of the volcano. The structure
of the novel is as fascinating as the building it
describes". Or, in the words of The Telegraph
that it was "an expertly crafted novel with richly
textured details, especially of violence and eroticism".
The promise of "a rollicking exploration of
love" in the new book therefore seemed to suggest
the possibility of a rather facetious comedown. Actually,
it turned out to be nothing of the kind. For a long
time I had kept looking at the book from afar and
was loath to pick it up. When I finally did, I could
not put it down. It grips you not for its lust, but
its sadness, a veiled sense of the distance between
relationships. It is an exploration of identity; love
and sex come only as incidentals to the search for
not necessarily sexual but personal, individual freedom.
That too is suffused with a lingering sense of always
feeling apart as an alien in those caught by the almost
unthinking compulsion to opt for the American dream
and those who are left behind. .
This sense of the other is implicit even in the
construction of the book. The four main characters
look at their involvements with each other and the
course that events take from their own points of view.
It is a theatrical device; it heightens the effect,
but it also gives you a four-dimensional insight into
events as they determine the course of each individual's
inter-action with the other. There is Sushima in her
American reincarnation as Susie. In one wild but definitive
moment she leaves a husband, a tradition, a country
behind and carries away an unborn child with her to
an American lover and a life, as she says, of freedom.
It is the fulfilment of a dream she would constant1y
have as a child of wanting to find a way out of the
net that would lie between her and the sky through
which she would never find the opening to fly out.
But as her Indian husband would recall when he could
finally share the trauma with that then unborn son
who finds his way back to his roots, "'I had
a strange sensation, an unexpected emotion at that
moment I envied them. How often can it happen in life
that people, strangers from the far ends of the earth
should have the great good fortune to meet and fall
instantly in love and lust?" That is S.K Naidu.
the father left behind, a famous author whose book
the son finds wrapped in a red saree in his mother's
trunk left lying in the loft as a requiem to the past
That is what sets off the son's trail back to Madras,
now called Chennai, where past and present mingle
in the great warmth of a reunion with an unremembered
father. Nikhil, alias Nicky, a son he did know existed.
A fact he seeks to blot out even after knowing, till
the natural bond begins to bridge the unnatural distance,
and even the defiant hurt recluse of a father begins
to mellow with a sense of love regained.
There is Nicky, the American's own awareness of
being different and permanently "the lone brown
in a classroom, on a baseball field or a train …I
had existed always with a secret fear of rejection.’
He comes to India to find both his father and author
of the hidden manuscript called "Georgetown".
He finds it ideal for a stage production he has in
mind. In the process he accepts Indian life, like
the surf on the sea "rhythmically soothing and
comforting ...there was something so patient in its
ebb and flow, a few million years of wearing down
the shores, licking away the sands." Nicky does
go back to the U.S., but before becoming only Nikhil
and finally, Nikhil Naidu.
The so-called rollicking exploration of love is even
sadder in the case of Apu, the daring but only partially
daring young lissom, dark beauty of a detective who
discovers India for Nikhil, but loses her heart to
confusion – between a lost remembered love and
a desperate desire to seek redemption, again with
a near Indian millionaire, ‘a citizen of the
U.S.A’, say her relatives in awed terms, only
to find that he is part of an international animal-poaching
enterprise. Perhaps Timeri Murari’s final judgment
on identity is contained in that little priceless
observation about British rule – ‘I thought
they had enriched India intellectually, while raping
her at the same time. That was the way of all relationships.’
A CHENNAI MYSTERY
THERE is a novel by William Faulkner balled The Sound
and the Fury in which he narrated events through the
experiences of different characters, Roshomon-like,
moving from one mind to the next, one heart to the
next. It resulted in a heart-breaking classic. Timeri
N Murari uses the same method in his book - a style
of structure, mind you, which is by no means easy
to pull off successfully. That is, however, an interesting
feature of The Arrangements of Love. After the initial
impatience the reader might feel, and the occasional
confusion, the voyeuristic feeling of travelling through
four peoples thoughts and emotions, is quite delicious.
The story is an unusual mystery of sorts, which
unfolds as a journey of a young American-born Indian,
a writer of plays, who's looking for his estranged
father in Chennai. It's the first time "Nikhil/Nicky"
has stepped into India because his mother has raised
him with the conviction that India has nothing that's
not despicable in it. His father, like him is a writer,
but one of great repute, who is still ravaged by the
painful memories of his wife leaving him for his American
friend; hell, he didn't even know he had a son! Nicky
has hired a private detective to help him find his
father and is surprised to know it's a woman! She's
convinced she's real good at her job, he's not. Expectedly
they start feeling attracted to each other; the fact
that she'll soon be having an, "arranged engagement"
to an NRI not withstanding. All these complications
are tied together by the most unusual thing of all
- a baby croc, that the playwright finds in the bathtub
of his hotel! It's bizarre and quite funny, and the
twisted way in which the "Croc block" resolves
itself is well-plotted. The different conflicts in
the book: the father's hatred for his betraying wife,
the "American" playwright's disgust with
corruption in India, not to mention pollution, the
frustration of the female detective in a male-dominated
profession - all these find a final resting place
through the telling of the tale, as most of the prejudices
that these people have start deteriorating. The characters
rise above their weaknesses.
And yet, maybe this should have been a shorter book.
Maybe Murari should have stuck to the model by Faulkner
and not gone back and forth between the minds of the
characters so often. This causes repetition of events,
which only at times is interesting. It's important
for the author know the limits of such a technique.
Clichés have to be thrown out window and emotions
must be deeply felt, otherwise the reader wonders:
Why do I have to be inside four peoples' minds constantly
even when it’s not riveting?
Faulkner had also used very different styles of
"talking" for each character, which powerfully
evoked distinct personalities, effectively conveying
the individual maelstrom in each heart. Yes, Murari
is a clever user of words, but in language each character
only marginally differs from another, despite the
fact they come from different continents, different
generations. Painting each person in definite strokes
right down to their lingo would have added lip-smacking
salt to proceedings.
And it’s the salt that makes all the difference.
A book like a film, I’m learning, should not
just be one which the reader is made to ‘pass
through’. The book has to call him. Arrangements
of Love does that successfully.INDIAN
THE HYBRID MIND.
Delving into the mind of an ABCD (American Born Confused
Desi) is at once insightful and amusing. The stereotype
- the first generation of immigrants want to blend
seamlessly into the new country. The second generation
feels vaguely restless, cultural misfits and they
return to the country of their origin in search of
their roots. This is the central theme of all novels
written by NRIs/expatriates and. this book by Timeri
N Murari is no exception to the rule.
The theme is simple. Nicky /Nikhil comes to India
armed with a stage adaptation of the novel to look
for its author, who is also the father he has never
known. The chapters move at a rapid pace with multiple
first person shifts.
In India, Nicky is sucked into a whirlwind of events
that leave him bewildered. His American sense of humour
is misunderstood by the police and they think he is
a terrorist because he casually remarks that there
is a-bomb in his lost suitcase! His character comes
across as wishy-washy and he is caught between the
world he knows and the one he has just stepped into.
The characters in the novel are quirky and their
lives seem so complicated. Susie/Sushima, Nicky's
mother leaves India to marry an American. After that
she breaks all her ties and when asked says "I'm
from New York." She finds India a "deceitful
place and most confusing too."
Susie tells her son that his father is dead. But
while smoking a joint in the attic of his Westchester
home, Nicky finds a tattered copy of a novel among
the folds of a resplendent red silk sari. Contemporary
events like the 9/11 bombings on the World Trade Centre
are skilfully interwoven into the story. Susie dies
in the attack and Nicky makes his pilgrimage to India.
The author has written novels, non-fiction as well
as screenplays and stage scripts. His film The Square
Circle made it to Time magazine’s top ten best
To the Indian sensibility certain episodes are quite
bizarre. For instance finding a baby crocodile in
the hotel's bathtub and the subsequent bureaucratic
hassles is rather improbable; Apu the pretty detective
playing striptease poker in front of lascivious men
and yet going in for a tame arranged marriage is hard
A lot of American phrases are interspersed with
Tamil words like "chinnaveedu." The language
and word usage are so different to what one is accustomed
to reading, that it adds a piquant flavour. Like the
Indian sun "swaggering and arrogant, full of
itself, hurling down its tremendous heat and light"
Perhaps nothing surprises the western mind more
than how Indians docilely agree to arranged marriages.
The spunky detective Apu tells Nicky that one hopes
to fall in love with the person he/she marries. Although
Nicky calls America a "schizophrenic" country
he goes back. But the reader is left with the feeling
that he will return to India and to Apu. DECCAN
- What really keeps you going is a comedy of errors
theme, a plot driven by interesting characters, all
interconnected by the strange twist of destiny. A
great read. FIRST CITY.