After a couple of disappointing reads, this month finally gave me a book worth talking about. With an interesting title, “Mango Cheeks, Metal Teeth” is the debut fiction of Aruna Nambiar. The book took me by surprise with its brilliant style and content, bringing back my lost faith in Indian writing. Set in small town Ambalakunnu in Kerala the plot may well seem simple. Yet, as a story teller Aruna Nambiar’s web of words ensures readers get to take something out of the book when that last page is turned over.
It is three simple plots woven together seamlessly
A long summer in 1980’s, when life was far simpler than the fast-paced gadget driven one we live today. The Madhavan Nair family live in their palatial ancestral home in Ambalakunnu with a horde of domestic help. It is vacation time and eleven year old Geetha with her siblings Raju and Mini arrive at Ambalakunnu to spend time with cousins Divya and Vikki. As grandparents, the Nairs are more than happy to have their home filled with their chatter, as they scamper around its vast spaces. The children spend time strolling around the markets, listening to their grandfather(Apoopan) narrate stories of ghosts and monsters, play card games and satiate on the yummy food of grandmother(Ammooma). Not to forget the far too many sibling fights and quarrels with cousins. Close to the Nair home is the family of Koovait Kannan, a previous domestic help of the home, who have suddenly risen up in social strata, thanks to their new found economic opportunity in the Gulf. The only other high profile family in Ambalakunnu is that of Ration Raman-the man whose riches could be traced to the unlawful income earned from his humble ration shop. His son Venu, appointed as the constable in the small town, is to wed the daughter of Koovait Kannan.
As the summer days unfold, the three families come face to face with complex moments and shades of life. Their paths intersect more than once and what transpires is a classic timeless saga. At the brink of growing up, eleven year old Geetha finds herself drawn into it all- resulting in a hard hitting memory that would stay with her for years and years to come. In Aruna’s own words, “… that metamorphic summer in Ambalakunnu as the time when she left her childhood behind and stepped into adulthood”.
A coming of age story
Laced with humor and satire, the book brings with it vivid descriptions that create strong visuals in the readers mind. It’s a nostalgic journey; back to the eighties, with perfect references to what life exactly was then. The playful narrative subtly squeezes in social relevance that’s worth a ponder, even as we sit in the year 2018. Amidst the blissful days of childhood and vacations, seamlessly integrated into the plot is the marriage of Venu with Koovait Kannan’s daughter – Bindu. The practice of dowry in the name of gifts in marriage and, the notions of high and low born, are blended well into the narrative.
To me, the book was well written with well sketched characters. The humor was in the right place too and it kept the entertainment factor up. My only grouch( though not really a major one), is with the way the book ended. It did seem a bit abrupt. With an eloquent narrative that maintained a steady pace throughout, this did come as a bit of a disappointment. As I turned that last page over and as I asked myself if I liked the book, I can only say one single word— YES!!
Read this for the humor, the social relevance, for the simplicity and the realistic characters. It is worth every bit of your time
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