A storm and a downward spiral

The book attempts to take a look at politics, feminism, religious fervour, and impending natural disasters.
Last Updated 24 February 2024, 22:55 IST

Chronicle Of An Hour And A Half, Saharu Nusaiba Kannanari’s debut novel, is set in the little village of Vaiga. There is a storm brewing here, unprecedented rains, and simmering anger because of one woman and her decision to go against the grain. Events unfold within a short period (as the title suggests) and everything quickly spirals well out of control.

The novel opens with a very unhappy Nabeesumma. She is the mother of sons and a key player in this story. She is not young, nor is she, at this point, very content with her circumstances. Nothing in her home feels right, and then her son brings trouble for her, along with angry outsiders. For the hapless Nabeesumma, then comes a slap or a push…and that is the beginning of the end of any peace this village had.

Then there is Reyhana, who is the recipient of a kidney she wished she hadn’t received, from a man she wishes she was far away from, trapped in a marriage she cannot leave. Hers is a miserable existence at 40, and then, in a flash of recklessness, she decides to break free by beginning an affair with someone 15 years her junior. He is also, for better or for worse, Nabeesumma’s son.

What follows is a series of events that only add to Vaiga’s woes. For one, there are the rains and storms, and fears of landslides. For another, someone witnesses Reyhana’s relatives with Nabeesumma, who then falls. Was she pushed or pulled, or was she slapped? Did she slip? Everyone, it seems, has a different take on that incident. And yet, it is agreed upon that this was the catalyst for mob fury.

The story in this debut work is told from multiple points of view. There are many villagers here, some of them related, some of them not, and they all have opinions on what to do next. And that does get confusing. There are frequent shifts in perspective as different characters take the stage every few pages. Since they’re all in Vaiga, they know, or come to know, of Reyhana’s affair.

The book attempts to take a look at politics, feminism, religious fervour, and impending natural disasters. Ambitious, certainly. The trouble, however, is the sheer number of people you are forced to reckon with. Having multiple individuals tell the story laced with their own biases is an interesting technique, and yet, here, it is overdone. It is hard to tell these folks apart, despite their theoretically different backgrounds. Reyhana’s ‘morality’ is called into question — one too many times. There are also moments when the sheer repetitiveness of the prose gets a little exhausting, for most characters notice the same things and react in the same way. Everyone here tends to overreact or speak dramatically…but most of all, their unhappiness with their lives is emphasised too many times.

The trouble with these personalities is that, despite their names, vividly different lives, ages and circumstances, they all, curiously, sound alike. They feel very strongly, are impulsive, and most of them are disgruntled for some reason or the other. Then there is the girl June, whose narrative segments are odd, disjointed, and even unrealistic. She is a little different from the others, as she is a lot more perceptive, and yet she is also a strange child.

News of Reyhana’s deeds spread quickly through social media platforms and the tale grows in the telling each time. Everyone is connected to everyone else and there is no one left who does not know. There are more talks of morality, a woman’s place, and her transgressions. Reyhana herself has misgivings and thinks of her companion as a boy.

This is also compounded by the text attempting to be lyrical in parts, or profound with its dialogues, and ending up doing neither. As the story moves on, there is an overdose of strong language as well, along with several disturbing ruminations and actions from the denizens of Vaiga.

Overall, while the premise of Chronicle Of An Hour And A Half is interesting, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. The sheer intensity of the mob is lost in the wordiness of the prose and the confusing array of characters.

(Published 24 February 2024, 22:55 IST)

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