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I got M.T.Vasudevan Nair’sManju‘ when I went to the book fair last week. I got the Tamil translation. It is a slim novel at around 79 pages. It is closer to a novella or a long short story. I read it in one sitting yesterday. This is my first book of his.

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Manju‘ looks like it might be the main character’s name. But it isn’t. It stands for ‘mist’. The whole story happens in a place near the mountains filled with mist, with snowy Himalayan peaks around and a beautiful lake nearby which tourists visit during summer. Vimala works in a school which is in this beautiful town. All the students and staff leave the school at the start of the summer holidays but Vimala stays back. When people ask her when she is going home for the holidays, she says ‘Tomorrow’. Later, when they get back from the holidays, they ask her when she got back. She says ‘Yesterday’. Between this tomorrow and yesterday, the whole summer passes for her. (This last sentence is not mine – it is from the book. I found it very beautiful.) Vimala doesn’t get along well with her family – her father was a benevolent patriarch, but he is old now and is not well. Her mother is probably having an affair with a neighbour, her sister is going around with some guy, and her brother is into drugs and gambling and is hanging out with the wrong crowd. None of them care about her, and so Vimala has stopped going home for the holidays. This particular summer, after everyone has left, she takes a walk to the lake, takes a ferry ride, in an old ferry, which has a new ferryman. While Vimala lives her summer in solitude, we get introduced to some of the characters who people the story – the ferryman, or boy rather, who is waiting for his long lost father to come back, the guard of her building who is kind, but who is also lazy, and is drunk half the time, a new neighbour who comes and stays in the opposite building who tries to become friends with her. We also get to know more about Vimala’s family members and a little bit about her own past. We learn that once upon a time she had someone in her life, but for some reason he left and she is now waiting for him to come back. This story about her past is told in vague terms – we can see the overall shape of the story and can make out some features, but the details are vague and are not precise enough. It is like looking at an Impressionist painting by Claude Monet – we can sense the overall mood and have an idea of the general contours but the details evade us. I loved that part of the story.

There is a beautiful introduction to the story which says that the book is about the act of waiting – how the summer days wait for winter to arrive, how a mountain town waits for tourists, how a boy waits for his father, how a woman waits for her lover, how a man waits for his death. It was interesting to look at the book from that perspective.

The book is probably an impressionistic work – what happens in the middle is more important than the beginning and the end, thoughts and ideas are probably more pronounced than events, and the past is more prominent than the present. I loved that aspect of the book.

I enjoyed reading ‘Manju‘. I am happy to read my first M.T.Vasudevan Nair book. I can’t wait to read more.

Have you read ‘Manju‘? What do you think about it? Have you read any other M.T.Vasudevan Nair book?

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