The writing is unique, meandering and very creative with the use of language. It can make for some initial reading hiccups, until it draws you in with the power of the stories themselves. The content focuses on the kind of experiences that are usually swept aside by mainstream storytelling. In this its trajectory is the same as has been drawn by writers like Tarun Tejpal and Arvind Addiga, but it is unique to itself in the innovative writing form.
In all the stories the innovative prose is employed to structure a seething build up of emotion until the story boils over. The first story, “The Good Mother” begins slowly, with what appears to be one more angst laden woman journeying through the vast spiritual rehab terrain that India is known to be. It is seemingly predictable, almost repulsive in its description of the woman’s actions, sexual and otherwise. However, the story continues at its pace, undeterred, into a shocking understanding of motherhood gone awry.
There is a fresh empathy in the book with women and children. Regardless of whether they are in Delhi or L.A., Koshy finds them a voice that speaks of their experiences intimately. “Romancing the Koodawala”, tells, what is a common enough story of a girl far from home, working as a maid in an elite Delhi home. Despite the quiet fury in the telling, against the injustice of her situation and despite the sorrow that she bears, it is a strangely uplifting story:
“I have been watching the men wooing Mona for some three months and have some understanding of the script they are playing out. Then one morning it all changed. Mona is, as usual, leaning over the balcony railing, her fifteen year old hips bending easily so she can better flash what she wishes to flash. Held in abeyance in her hand is the glass. But Mona is not holding it in her usual ready stance of one just as capable of flinging its icy contents to douse too eager a fire as she is of quenching a respectfully expressed thirst. No, in this case she is cradling it. And what is this rising, evanescent from the rim of steel – not Delhi fog, I don’t think. No it is something cloudy but pure, something possessed of delicacy.”The writing, in this last sentence, could be describing itself.
It must be said, that, in its uneven moments, the prose can be tedious. When it gets very convoluted and reader attention slackens, the book dips. Also the dark edge of the stories can become overwhelming. However Koshy keeps you hooked with the promise of her steady hand taking you to startling places. And she delivers on the promise with her emotionally lucid, original voice.
Book Description: In If It Is Sweet, precisely etched characters collide, the blind suddenly seeing the blind. Mridula Koshy plumbs the chasms across which they stare, asking the question: what is it people see when they see one another? Her characters are proximate, though from vastly different class backgrounds. Servants and mistresses. Middle-class insomniacs wandering the same footpaths on which labourers wake to care for their sleepless infants. An old man, his maid, and a koodawallah, and a conversation that ends in both insight and blindness. If It is Sweet does not set out to transport the reader to another world. It is one rooted in an unsettled world; it intends to unsettle. What hardship does to the human spirit is one of the central questions asked by literature. Koshy’s stories are not those maids-and-madams stories that have found poverty ennobling. Nor does she argue that poverty is a curtain so dark one cannot see past it. In “The Good Mother”, the middle-class woman from Manchester, in Delhi to scatter the ashes of her two young boys killed in a car accident, is clearly not safe on her side of the dark curtain. She agonizes over her failed motherhood. On the other side, in “P.O.P.” an old Banjara woman, resident of a bustee, laments her failed motherhood: “Manish was such a good boy when he was little. But I should have known. The least little thing he did wrong he thought marked him as bad. After that, he would only do wrong. The child could never see all the space there is between black and white, good and bad.” Privilege does not protect characters from degradation, nor does poverty rob them of the soul-searching that is usually the purview, in literature, of the well-off. It is in such reordering of traditional narration that these stories achieve their unity as a collection. Exhilaratingly, this is a collection that claims Delhi’s place in the world. Although not all of the stories are set in Delhi it is clear that Delhi is their centre of gravity. Kotla and Klamath Falls, Oregon rest cheek to cheek and Los Angeles’ Sunset Blvd runs right through Connaught Place, and alongside KG Marg. Above all Koshy propels the reader amongst the lives jostling on these streets to see the dark interior of their stories illuminated briefly in their moment of contact
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