Sunday, December 7, 2014

Book Review: In the Convent of Little Flowers

The huge acclamation Indu Sundaresan's Taj Trilogy (the trilogy comprises of books - The Twentieth Wife, The Feast of Roses and Shadow Princess) received made me purchase her only short stories collection - In the Convent of Little Flowers.  This book stood "sort of first" in many ways - first one I purchased from site, first one I read from all penned by the author and first in which some stories had Chennai connection.

The book comprises of nine short works of fiction running roughly into a total of 210 pages with an afterword and acknowledgements section at its end. The first story - Shelter of Rain details the journey of Padmini, from Chennai to Seattle, from being just another girl in an orphanage, the Convent of Little Flowers to acquiring a warm and secure identity and being daughter to Tom and Diana Merrick. The journey in the story is interspersed with contents of a letter that Padmini receives from a nun in the convent who claims to be her biological aunt. Shunned away in past, forgotten for long, more appropriately, handed over to safe hands in a distant land, Padmini struggles to reason why her measly past in Chennai nags her current identity and peace. 

The second tale in the collection is Three and a Half Seconds, the best one in my opinion. It traces the path of a family as they migrates from village, leaving behind destitution and drought stricken farmlands to cacophonous urban life in Mumbai in search of work and money.  Meha and Chander strive hard to adjust to city life, tackle many challenges to ensure a better living for their only son - Bikaner, only to be ill treated, recklessly insulted and physically abused by him in their old age. The plot is highly common place but the author strikes hard in the way she narrates it. It is simply astounding how one can engage a reader so thoroughly even when with a plot so typical.

The Faithful Wife and Fire come next in collection, both bear a strong voice of outrage against injustice meted out by society in name of up keeping ancient traditions and practices. The author views these old customs as "just a vicious need to connect with the past, with a willing scapegoat". 

The Most Unwanted is a story where the author, in my opinion, strikes gold, much like she does in Three and a Half Seconds. The story is simple, say even banal but the rendition sets it apart from everything else. Parvati and her child Krishna, throw their entire family into a tumultuous state, open up a chronic scar but with time comes a healing effect, a much needed one.    

Bedside Dreams iterates the premise of old ones deserted by their own blood, in a slightly different setting and in a tone less intense than Three and a Half Seconds

The remaining stories are where the author goes into a deep slumber - The Key Club, The Chosen One and Hunger. It is sad to see the awe you built up for the author's story telling skills disappear in a jiffy with these follies. 

Most stories have sad endings, however, in all that tragedy and drama the author creates, she embeds little hope as well, some relief after breaking free, free from the clutches of constraints and rules the society lays. In Indu's Convent of Little Flowers, there are many thorns as well. A decent book to read, definitely overpriced, but barring the follies, the author's art of story telling needs a good round of applause.