August 3, 2008 12:28:43 pm
Insects Are Like You And Me Except Some of Them Have Wings, Kuzhali Manickavel, Blaft, Rs 195
Quirky tales with insects in inset
From centipedes in a shoe to revelations in a shoebox, from exploding women to a dead mouse named Miraculous. Chidambaram-based Kuzhali Manickavel’s debut collection of short stories takes you to your childhood as you sat in the grass and took apart a dead insect, wing by wing, with an almost perverse joy.
You did not suffer from guilt pangs then, only that when you grew up, you tried to keep your eyes glued on things that have just two legs. This is where Manickavel comes in and shakes you with her visceral writing laced with humour.
Death is the central focus of many stories, but more than that they hold a mirror to an emotion. In “Mrs. Krishnan”, the teenage obsession with short-sleeved dresses moves on to slitting of wrists: “I almost wore short sleeves today. It was perfect weather for lemon yellow and green apple, but the sun kept lighting up the scars that run along the inside of my forearm like puckered rivers. They are tattooed testament to my own laws of physics; a body under immense pressure seeks release through the nearest available wrists. Results may vary — in case of failure, avoid short sleeves.”
Even the end of adolescence is handled beautifully with the case of a nosebleed in “The Queen of Yesterday”. Ruby wiggles her left nostril and gets two drops of blood in the palm of her hand. Jealous Jasmine tries to flip her eyelids but ends up in hospital with her eyes shut with Tweety bird bandages. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but Manickavel goes about this quirky, coming-of-age tale in an almost singsong tone.
Another story that plays on the heartstrings is a father-daughter tale, “Flying and Falling”. Muhil, who does not cry when she was born, has a peculiar itch and has to rub her back against anything she can get to. When she turns four, she tries to tip herself over anything she can climb on. Her father one night dreams of two wings sprouting from his daughter’s shoulders. It is a dream that makes him let her go — off the edge of a bridge.
The 35 stories are delightfully interspersed with diagrams of houseflies, dragonflies and other insects, some labelled with oneliners that you would find on the side of a bus or a college wall: from “Do Not Urien Here and Thear” and “Believe a snake but not a girl” to “A Guide to Life in a Small Indian Town Represented by a Lateral View of a Locust with Wings and Legs Removed”.
The insect theme, however, can be misleading. All the tales are not about arthropods, and those that do spare you that creepy-crawly feeling. Once you have swat away at the insect drawings and cleared out the longing for a clear narrative, you will enjoy this fantastic, fairyfly world.
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