Monotonous rhythms

Monotonous rhythms

Monotonous rhythms

Mathew Vincent Menacherry
Harper Collins, 2009,
pp 315, Rs 350

Considering the Presbyterian roots of Collins from which publishers Harper Collins emerged and that its original business was selling Bibles, I have to admit it has come a long way to publish Mathew Vincent Menacherry’s Arrack in the Afternoon. Their product line certainly has diversified immensely, from the Holy Book to school books to a book which has no semblance whatsoever to their early publications.

Arrack in the Afternoon is intended to be fiction but then fiction also has to have a complete story which leads to some kind of fulfilment at the end. Of course, this book has  a story with characters. There is Verghese who occupies most of the space as he grows up in Mumbai where his parents, Kochapu and Mariamma, moved from a remote village called Padapally in Kerala.

He is a frustrated man, an alcoholic, a poet who failed and who could not even throw himself under a speeding truck and kill himself. It is around Verghese that the book revolves, and it is his strange life that is tracked in the book — from being virtually nothing to a totally unplanned godman. There is Patricia, Verghese’s only prop in life whom he genuinely loved and who herself went through different avatars before she eventually settled down to running an imitation of a bar-cum-restaurant.

Then there is Kochapu with his life of drinking and unacknowledged self-importance, and wife Mariamma who was condemned to a life of prayer. And Karan, the wheeler dealer; Sabu the editor; women — Pearl and Simone; who have all been slotted in to add meat to a story.

The author has certainly succeeded in describing the Kerala setting and the rustic background of the main characters. This did conjure up in my mind as nostalgic, familiar scenes of life in a Kerala village. The dialogues Verghese has with Sabu, Pillai, Kunjan Nair and of course his parents were well crafted to reflect the Kerala flavour in English.
It was the construction of the story that disappointed me. The chapters appeared to be  strung together involving different characters in a contrived effort. The narration  meanders between the past and present with no real relevance to the story. For instance, there are chapters which flash back at length to the evolution of the main character Verghese’s father Kochapu and to Kochapu’s father. Similarly Patricia, the other important character, has two of her previous generations recalled. These have done little to add value to the story and brief references would have done just as well.

I could not understand the need for so much emphasis on sex. Almost every page has a liberal dose of the f-word, a multi-lingual choice of words of abuse involving mothers and sisters, references to penises in various stages of slumber and alertness, their female equivalents. ‘Boobies’ and sex at every other turn. If it was to display the raw flesh in the ‘underbelly’ of Mumbai then I would have preferred it like my steak — well done, not rare!
I must confess I read the book without much difficulty and in fact, moved fast from one chapter to the next, curious to know if it contained more of the same. Each chapter read like an episode in itself because it contained a central character and something of note. Generally, the book made interesting reading and it could even enhance one’s reserve vocabulary.

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