Thursday, 31 March 2016

Mistress - Anita Nair

Date of Reading: 08/02/2016
Author: Anita Nair
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
Place: New York
Year: 2006

          I can still remember the countless times I put back this enticing book with its kathakali cover page to its shelf in DC book shop. It was not the time I guess, and partly I was afraid to take a book bearing the title 'Mistress' in front of my parents' watchful eyes. Well, now the little child has grown, finally to grab a copy to relish the mysteries inside. 
          Two stories unfold here simultaneously: one featuring Shyam and his wife Radha who is in love with the charming travel writer Chris. Other story is told by Koman where he narrates his life story devoted to the service of his demanding mistress -- Kathakali. The whole work is another peep into the beauty of Kathakali with its nine sections divided according to the nine rasas and the story thus proceeds from sringaaram to shaantam.
      There are some works that leave you speechless, gripping you from beginning to end and the snippets of  wisdom that you gather with it will remain as your new companion. 'Mistress' possesses the same magic and the real treat lies with the chapters introducing the nava rasas where you will be amazed by the vibrant imagination of Anita Nair. From the posture of the kathakali artist she goes on to find instances of each rasas in nature, and in seasonal changes. And as Radha travels from the tumultuous passion of Sringaaram to the calmness of Shaantam, we move along with her, Shyam and Koman and gains an understanding of what it means to be an artist for art's sake or as in Shyam's case love for the sake of love hoping one day it will be returned.

          Travel writer Christopher Stewart arrives in Shoranur to the resort called Near the Nila to meet the famous Kathakali artist Koman. There he is greeted by his niece Radha and her husband Shyam who owns the resort and has agreed to provide cheap accommodation to Chris hoping that his book will add to the resort's publicity.
          Radha who leads an unpleasant married life with a husband to whom she can feel only contempt is instantly attracted to the handsome foreigner and his cello. She had been used by an old man during her college days with the promise of marriage which soon proved to be false. After aborting the child resulted from this affair she returns home and is married off to Shyam to preserve the family name.
         Shyam has another story. Being the member of a destitute family living under the mercy of Radha's father, he had a very miserable childhood. But his hard working nature soon reaped its rewards and as he was planning to go to Dubai Radha's father came knocking at the door for help. He married Radha knowing her past and believed that she will one day realise his love, enough to love him back.
          Radha and Chris starts a passionate affair which is noticed by the wise eyes of Koman. He realises how it will end but restricts himself from warning them. Instead he starts narrating his life story beginning with the tales of his parents.
         His father Sethu had run away from home as a boy to Sri Lanka. He is seduced by his benefactor and later when he stabs his best friend in a moment of rage there was no way to escape but to run again. Assuming the name Seth he works under a Christian doctor -- Dr. Samuel -- in Tamilnadu and in one of their trips he meets Saadiya in Arabipattanam.
          When their relationship comes out to public Saadiya is outcasted from her hometown and with Sethu she tries to build a new life. After the initial months of passion, she gets haunted by guilt and on Koman's birth she wishes to bring him up as a Muslim. Discords arise and Saadiya drowns herself. Disheartened Sethu heads back to Kerala leaving Koman with Dr. Samuel. Years later he was brought back to his rich father who had by that time remarried. The new family accepts him without protests and he finds his true talent in Kathakali.

          As these narrations progress during evenings Shyam notices the relationship between his wife and Chris and is deeply hurt. His rage even results in a marital rape. But Radha soon realises that her adventurous affair is only based on lust and nothing more. She breaks up with Chris without informing that she is pregnant. She decides to leave Shyam too as it is worthless to continue their loveless marriage.
          Chris' real intention was to know whether Koman was his biological father as he once had an affair with Angela, his mother. But Koman assures that he is not his father and Chris leaves Kerala disappointed. Story ends with Shyam thinking of pursuing his affections accepting Chris' child as his own. Meanwhile Radha finds a new meaning in life with the child growing within her.

Some catchy quotations:

"Don't let someone else decide for you what is within your reach or what is beyond you" - 4

"You cannot make someone see the truth unless they want to" - 33

"Fear makes one do things one would never do otherwise. Fear lets you compromise." - 294

Anita Nair
"But a true artist is also someone who is able to sustain his belief in his art, and knows that what the world thinks of his art is irrelevant." - 354

"People make mistakes. There is nothing wrong in admitting you made one. But to continue making a mistake when you know it is one, now that is wrong." - 454
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