A Place of No Importance (APNOI, for the rest of the post) is collection of 13 short stories set, along the timeline of the Tamil Calendar, in the little village of Ayyanarpatti. The book begins in the month of Aipasi (mid-October to mid-November) with the story A Festive Suicide, Attempted. As the book (or the year) progresses, the reader learns of the characters who live here, and their idiosyncrasies.
As the author mentions in her note at the end, most of us are accustomed to reading stories with an urban setting. APNOI with its rural setting is refreshing, not only because it offers a different viewpoint (the “other India”, as some people call it) but also because the customs and traditions of the characters in the book give the reader a whole other-worldly charm. Not an unfamiliar one, just a forgotten one. In Ayyanarpatti, caste and gender roles are still strictly defined – the lower castes cannot own houses on the main street (there is only one main street that runs through the village – The Upper Street), the women marry young and stay in their kitchens, the men work in fields and send their sons abroad for work.
The stories in this collection are:
A Festive Suicide, Attempted – A drunkard attempts suicide on Diwali to show his villagers that his family does not take care of him.
Possessed – A boy believes that a ghost from a banyan tree has possessed him.
God’s Own Country – Muthu buys land from Rathinam to set up an international school, but Nithya gets suspicious
A House On Upper Street – A man from the lower caste returns from Singapore and decides to buy a house on the main street.
A New Release – A young wife, whose husband is abroad, and whom she has only known for 2 weeks, awaits the release of her favourite actor’s new film.
Scenes from a Scandal – The village’s only divorcee and an old widower set tongues wagging (this story is my favourite in this collection)
A New Beginning – An old farmer’s wife goes missing one day.
A Love Story, starring Councillor Muthu – An inter-religious love story with a political background
Prelude to a Wedding – A mother and daughter try to dissuade their family from marrying the daughter off to someone she does not like.
The Demon Wind of Adi – A farmer thinks of the “olden days”
A Yank in Ayyanarpatti – An American builder gets confused and fascinated with the village’s politics and superstitions.
The Amman of Saris – A sari seller hatches a plan to sell more saris to the naive and pious villagers.
Macondo Thatha: Origins – A man decides to get married for the second time, but his plans go awry.
APNOI is the literary equivalent of a lopsided grin. The way the author has captured fine details with her evocative prose, the stories are a clever and satirical portrayal of life in this little village that few have heard of. The stories aren’t interlinked, but several characters appear in multiple stories, such as the witty Nithya or the wily Muthu. Some stories have tragic ends, but are so well written that the reader applauds the author’s skill even while mourning for the characters. Some others have elements of black comedy in them, while yet others bring a smile to the reader’s face.
APNOI has been compared to R. K. Narayan’s famous Malgudi Days, and it does not come as a surprise. Veena Muthuraman’s sentences do sound post-colonial with a smear of vernacular thrown in, the kind of language one does not get to read nowadays. It is utterly captivating and a joy to read.
Highly recommended! Rating: 4/5
The book is available on the Juggernaut app. The book has not yet been added to Goodreads. Will update the link once it’s available.
Disclaimer: This book was sent to me by the Juggernaut team for an honest review. This has in no way affected the review and my opinions are personal and unbiased.