Wednesday, January 01, 2014

Probing the Inner Life

Neelima Vinod’s e-book novella, ‘Unsettled’, focuses on contemporary love marriages, yakshis and poets. It has impressed critics and readers alike

By Shevlin Sebastian

When Neelima Vinod was a child, she would come from Kuwait to spend her summer holidays at her ancestral village in Paliam at Chendamangalam. There, her grandmother would tell a lot of stories, including that of a yakshi (female ghost), and a poet who came to the village around 500 years ago.   

It seems he fell in love and wrote a poem, but nobody has seen it,” says Neelima.  

All these memories coalesced in her mind when she sat down to write, ‘Unsettled’, a novella, which has been published as an e-book by the Toronto-based IndiReads, a company which specialises in South Asian novellas. So far, they have brought out 30 novellas from countries like India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh.
In ‘Unsettled’, Neelima brings in contemporary characters, Raghav Pandey, a Maharashtrian, who is married to Divya Nambisan, a Malayali. They met in a pub in Mumbai, fell in love and got married. But cracks are developing, because Raghav has got friendly with his earlier love, Anu.

Sharing words became a burden,” writes Neelima. “So they tiptoed around each other, avoided conversation and pretended that brushing dust beneath the rug would tidy things up. Their silences became long. When Raghav passed her, Divya would smell another woman’s perfume. This unsettled her and she began to dream. This drove her to the edge -- the suspicion, the silence and the dreams of a woman whose sadness multiplied within her being.”

So they go to Dr. Ray, a psychiatrist, for counselling. He advises them to take a break and suggests that they go to Divya’s ancestral home at Cherakad, where the doctor had been on a holiday several years ago.

Meanwhile, five centuries ago, the poet Shankara Shastry is banished by the king of the Nayaka dynasty because the latter’s concubine, Meenakshi, made overtures to Shankara which he rebuffs. A miffed Meenakshi tells the king that Shankara tried to seduce her.

So Shankara also reaches the ancestral house by accident where Divya and Raghav are also arriving, centuries later. None of them know that the eight-pillared house with a hundred rooms is haunted by a yakshi by the name of Thatri whom they will all meet face-to-face.

My favourite character is Shankara,” says Neelima, who is a poet at heart. “I love him because he writes poetry. His voice is strong. As for yakshis, I have never liked the way they have been depicted in stories as being wild, cruel and harmful.”

Unsettled’ is a good read. The story moves forward smoothly; sometimes we are in contemporary times, with Divya and Raghav and the typical problems faced by a young couple, at other times, we are with Shankara and Thatri during their intense love affair. Neelima’s depiction of the inner life of her female characters is exceptional, although she could do better with the men. Nevertheless, this is a promising debut and critics and readers have been happy.

It is bone-chilling and eerily beautiful,” says reader Shwetha Ganesh Kumar. “Neelima’s ‘Unsettled’ is a beautifully written novella on the gradual crumbling of a marriage and the darkest motivations of men and women. With lyrical descriptions and sentences that slither seamlessly across the pages, Neelima proves her prowess as a writer whose name should be bookmarked for the future.”

Ananya Dhawan, an editor for a fiction web site, says, “‘Unsettled’ is an enchanting and a gripping read. It will captivate you and make you yearn for more. While love is the focal point, it is not one of those cliched love stories. Instead, it is something magical, and ‘out of the box’.”

Neelima, a mother of eight-year-old twin boys, lives in Bangalore, with her entrepreneur-husband. She has been academically excellent. Neelima won the gold medal for MA Literature from Sacred Heart College, Thevara, and did her M. Phil from Madurai Kamaraj University.

And now, she is busy at work on her next book, but is unsure about whether to bring it out as an e-book. “Many of my friends asked me when ‘Unsettled’ will come out in book form,” says Neelima. “The culture of e-book reading is yet to pick up in India, but, thankfully, things are changing quickly.”

Unsettled’ is now available at Amazon and Smashwords. 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode) 

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