A fresh classic

You hold in your hands, dear reader, a freshly written classic of Indian literature. Although just written, it can easily be ranked among those books whose writers you respect, or envy even.

Set in 1980s Mumbai, or Bombay as it was known then, Prahlad, Ananya and Laila find their lives to be interconnected. They meet Dorai, often referred to as God by his friends, who has the unique ability to ‘rewrite lives’. As we delve deeper into the story, we find Dorai immensed in the task of drafting and redrafting possible destinies.

The book begins on a profound note — “That lines of text could appear from the molten formless liquid that bubbled in the pot was like magic to me… Well, to me the shining, black metal form of the linotype was… of a black goddess. When the page had been printed, the line would dissolve in the pot again…” said Dorai.

Out of this insight appears a simple possibility. What if a character in a book were to realise he were a character in the book? What if, then, he were to push the author aside and pen a story that wrapped its word-web around the other characters?

While this concept might be novel, it is not new. You might have also encountered the same in the film, Inkheart, or in a Pepsi ad where the character rewrites the film.

The author, however, does not rely on having big thoughts and forcing it into the mouths of his characters. He adds to this a superlatively conceived structural innovation, concept straight from spatial geometry. Time is folded over like dosa, and wrapped into it are succulent ideas.

Many books have similar insights and structures, but Twice Written takes this one step further by adding to it characters that are very relatable. Typically, they can be identified as intel types who read inteltype books and discuss intel-type things and ‘do’ life, love, sex, kisses, death, work, only always with a gleaming patina of the mind covering it. The intel mind forever conceptualising, categorising, abstractifying as if any of that nonsense really matters, especially in a world where trains from Pakistan can arrive filled with the butchered, the raped, and the defiled. But how, especially in pain, do we not run to the mind for anodyne, or understanding?

Now, many writers have characters pulled out of their college dormitories — sad ghosts from college rags, golden-hued from sepia retelling. But, K Sridhar also has that particular quality or essential cruelty that forces memories out of the author’s brain on to the pages of life, or worse, into the landscape of the reader’s psyche there to be etched with dark inks of fear and hope, and clarity and thought. There is, however, one more thing that classics possess. The author’s version of life must give God a run for his money.

On a cavilling note, linotype practically died out 25 years ago. So the entire molten-metal-Goddess thing is, ‘Oh God, so dated’. Structurally, the climax is at the book’s centre. While the book does not flag, the book ends in an emotive climax, and not in a crescendo.
When Sadasivam reads the future, he bursts into a more ancient Tamil with complex metrical forms. ‘Dorai’s writing’ however is no different from that of the first section. It is the same writer with the same tone. Only the viewpoint varies. This is technically dissatisfying, but what positively grates is the unforgivable pomposity of titling the second section Palimpsest; it sits like an ugly blot on a book aptly titled as Twice Written.

Vaidyanathan and Dorai are supposedly enlightened disciples of Sadasivam. But, both handle their enormous power in a suspect fashion. So, the leap from minor skills to playing God is inadequately established. The device of Dorai removing himself from physical life leads to unease.  It is too convenient.

Also, does Sridhar imagine that the power to end one’s life, whether by bullet or psychic command, would end the reincarnation cycle? A great sage with the power over storms once abruptly ended a storm, causing a ship to capsize. The deaths from that ship forced him to descend down the incarnation ladder. More seriously, does the author have to kill himself for his creations to survive? Disturbing questions, for this book is the mind of Sridhar, in which Sridhar is set.

Twice Written has great virtues and minor flaws. It is a ‘must read’ for all who stumble in life and wonder what moron authors their life. It is a ‘must read’ for all who walk the spiritual path and attempt to rise above the page of life.

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