Pablo Neruda, that famed poet of love, has a lesser-known collection titled ‘Ode to Common Things’. Here, he takes commonplace objects like onions or spectacles and elevates them to the proverbial grecian urns of old. Consider this line from Ode to an Onion:
You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
heavenly globe, platinum goblet,
of the snowy anemone
and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.
It is fine, for the onion deserves its due, and while the poem does not lack in sincerity, it does in deliverance. An ode to an onion, the humble object, written in the fanciful verse of Neruda, seems a misfit. Something more humble, like a haiku, would do it more justice.
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Why am I talking about Neruda, in a review clearly titled otherwise? Simply because Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan’s stories remind one of this sincere, yet somewhat incomplete effort of presenting everyday situations as something more profound, something that tries to reveal a hidden layer of meaning, but this dug-up hole holds lesser treasure than imagined.
A cat, who hangs out at a brothel, wants to reveal the pitiable lives of the women there. A girl receives a visit from her best friend’s ghost in “death friends forever”, where heaven is imagined as a physical space with a community and economy and politics of its own. It’s a little lame.
A struggling writer sleeps with an established one in “the irrepressible memory of silence”. A man writes a love letter at two in the morning, in obviously titled “it is two in the morning and I am writing to you”. Two women have a casual conversation at the tattoo parlour, about texting a guy and talking about the guys they have been with, the whole banter revolving around a misspelt tattoo and inserting a carrot to correct it. In “one plus one”, a bartender in Chandigarh talks about what he does during the day and who he thinks of, and how he finds a connection with a DJ at the club. A teenager navigates the pressures of getting New Year’s eve right on “the biggest night of the year”.
No modern story is complete without a beloved pet, preferably a dog, and its death. “before and then after” is about Poppy, of course, the World’s Best Dog. But it is also a cute story about a little girl trying to navigate school groups in the face of a changed address. “except for the sound of your feet” talks about relationship ennui, and the collection concludes with the best attempt of the whole book; a mermaid’s story, once thought lost, come to life.
Each of these stories is a simple narration of everyday problems, the kind of words that are whispered on page two in the morning when all is quiet. Love is at everything, but it is the silent kind of love, a slightly lethargic expression of all emotions.
Reading comes in many forms. There are those books that you struggle to finish, those which you fear to finish, those that you read because you cannot wait to know what happens next, and those that never get over because you find yourself staring at the horizon after each page.
There is no distinct style in the writings of Reddy, and even the reader will finish it within a couple of days, on the way to work or at bedtime, and quickly move on to the next.
A good attempt. But not a great one.
She didn’t know why she had stayed with him for so long, but drama can be an addiction, as much as anything else, it was when his fights grew boring, she was tired of having the same conversation over and over, that she left.
Recommended Age Group: 15-18