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Sunday 20 August 2017
News updated at 3:00 AM IST

Ties that bind & gag

Vani Mahesh 18:51 IST
Kith and Kin  Chronicles of a clan Sheila Kumar
The title Kith and Kin, Chronicles of a Clan tells you at the very onset that the stories here are snugly interlinked to one another and you will see characters carry over from one story to another. This is quite comforting.

If you, as a reader, are not yet ready to part with a character, no need to despair — there is a good chance he or she will make an appearance again in someone’s thought, or as someone’s someone.

Through the 230-odd pages of the book, you will live with the eccentricities and quirks of a prestigious matriarchal family, the Melekats from Kerala. At the head of the family is Ammini Amma, and the stories cover characters up to the present day — till Ammini’s grandchildren. The author does not take the rather boring and tiresome route of narrating the stories in a genealogical order, but weaves them in seemingly no particular sequence. However, given the easy flow of the stories, one can imagine the shuffling she must have done in lining them up.

The collection grabs your attention from the very first story, which briefly introduces you to the matriarch and to the clan, but mostly to Mon Repos, the matriarchal home. Young and thriving architect Sumanth gets a call from his childhood friend Suvarna out of the blue. Suvarna, Ammini’s granddaughter, has now inherited Mon Repos, and she calls Sumanth to know if he wants to buy the place from her.

Through Sumanth, who lived in a rented house next to Mon Repos as a child, the author paints a picture of the grandiose mansion and its uppity dwellers. The stories that follow are almost like a soap opera plot!

There is Raman, Ammini’s widowed brother, who laments having to live with his son’s family as an old man. Then there is Rajan, Ammini’s unmarried brother, who lives on his own, but goes through an intense loneliness that slowly pushes him towards insanity. You will dread old age after gulping these two stories down.

While elders in the clan get you down a little, with their sufferings and insecurities, the younger generation garners your admiration for their resilience. Take Beena, Ammini’s granddaughter. After being forcefully indoctrinated into the “boy seeing” ritual, this is the sentence that sums her thought — “Would they force her to marry that insufferable man? Well, if they did, she would embark on an affair with the brother!”

Or Avinash, the matriarch’s grandson. He is subjected to a silent trauma all through his growing years having to bear with his embittered and embattled parents. The troubled youngster finally decides to move far away from them to Baltimore — “He knew his father would be pragmatic about the move, his mother would be devastated, but it had to be done. Let them sort their lives out, I really cannot be the sole crutch any longer.”

In this compulsively readable collection of short stories, the author’s handling of the main character, Ammini, is subtle but strong. Ammini appears in every story, as someone’s mother, grandmother or sister, but not with a story of her own. So, all along as a reader, you make up your mind about what kind of a person she is.

Just when you think she is a cold-blooded mother, who never cared for her daughter, a grandchild shows you how erudite Ammini really was. While one brother loathes her dominance and control, another loves her for being calm and dignified. So, who is this mystery woman? What happens to her at the end? And how do these stories end? You read on, because I don’t want the review to be flagged for spoilers!

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