Savithri’s Special Room and other stories by Manu Bhattathiri

I decided to read Manu Bhattathiri’s collection after reading two of his short stories online. ‘The Cold’ published in The Caravan read like a satire. The protagonist is filled with an urge to do charity but finds so many excuses and hurdles in his path that he eventually doesn’t. The story is well-written, attention-gripping, humorous and relatable. It is also the first story in Bhattathiri’s collection.

The other story I read by him was ‘The biggest enemy of rain’ in The Bombay Literary Magazine. A hilarious story- his trademark and a very relatable one too. These lines got me rofl-

‘But the romance in his head vaporized somewhat when Kavitha polished a shocking amount of rice, more pieces of fried chicken than a man could eat and three ice-creams of different flavours. He could see the waiters, who were his subordinates, nudge each other and giggle and build a story for later.

This behavior was borne out of one curious trend, which I have seen in many of our families. Gopi, too, learned it soon after his marriage. It was simply that his wife Kavitha had a mother who had always taught her, right from when she was very small, that the whole point of a girl’s life was to get married. You needed to work towards it, she said. You needed to observe certain rules. Eat less so that you don’t put on weight, talk softly as becomes a girl of good upbringing, do not show your teeth while laughing, do not stare at people however curious they make you, avoid talking or laughing loudly in the presence of young men, always show an interest in womanly duties like washing vessels and cleaning the table, never come out of your room in the morning without taking a bath first, and many more. Her mother told her that it was tough observing all these, yes, but the reward was that you needed to observe them only until you were married. The moment you tied the knot – provided you tied it on the right man – you were free. All the effort towards getting a good husband would have paid off then, and you had a lifetime of relaxation ahead.

Now that Kavitha was married, she was free. During the months following the wedding Gopi saw that his wife was exercising her newfound freedom almost every moment, rapidly letting go the beautiful, nubile girl he had fallen for.’

This is only a slice of Bhattathiri’s satirical style you see here. The stories in his book make you laugh, ponder, smile, cry. The title story made me cry. Bhattathiri has a way of holding his reader’s attention. The characters have unique attributes. I have often thought of writing stories with characters possessing one unique attribute each but it is challenging and Bhattathiri does it very well. These stories also read to me like moral stories. You will find traces of righteousness, love, jealousy, ego and others in his stories.

There is a love story in the collection in which the humour reminded me of South Indian movies I have seen. The essence of Kerala is there throughout the book- coconut oil, tapioca etc.

Another striking feature of his stories- inanimate objects have life, so does nature, animals and other creatures. Every element in his story is alive and conspiring or whispering or wondering. It only adds to the mystery and beauty of Karuthupuzha, the imaginary place.

Also, the language is simple and makes no pretense of sounding intellectual.

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