Her short story collection, If It Is Sweet, set a kind of expectation flowing. Textured use of language, layered nuances, much unsaid. Mridula Koshy established herself as a miniaturist. One always has apprehensions about short story writers venturing into novel ground because novels are really very different things – harder to juggle with not much room for leaving things unsaid. Many short story writers have tried valiantly and failed to make much of a mark as novelists.
Koshy’s debut novel is ambitious in form and sticks to themes which she is familiar with. Life in America for a child with roots in South India, relations between parents and children and the griefs that plague teenage girls growing up with a void inside. Of course, it is in the end a book about the hunt of a mother for the son that was taken from her, though in the beginning it seems like a search for lost mothers by daughters. Koshy experiments with time – one chapter has two different time zones and two different daughters, Tessie Baby and Nina, mother and daughter in part of the book. My take on that was that French saying, the more things change the more they remain the same, because at times it was difficult to figure out which mother and daughter was being talked about since the changes were so seamless. Everything that happens is set between 18th and 20th May, 2004. 36 hours switching times, places and voices.
The missing son Asa Gardner materialises in the second part of the book, clutching a piece of paper on which his birth mother had scribbled four lines. He leads a dysfunctional family life in the US, separated from his wife with a small daughter whom he sees every so often and haunted by confusing memories of his childhood, including a stint with the band of boys who dodge in and out of trains at Delhi station. So the book swings into two parts, mothers, daughters, aunts and mothers and sons with daughters lost from mothers.
Apart from the missing children, the story is told from time to time by different people – like the village priest Father Paul, who wants to leave the church, or the German woman Gretchen whose husband ‘lost’ the boy on the train the first time around. Kerala village gossip, religious hypocrisy and the maliciousness of the women towards those they do not understand is vividly depicted. It’s a different world from the candy coloured plantation world of Arundhati Roy, but Kerala none the less.
Koshy’s use of titles is engaging, cryptic, since they relate directly to nothing at hand. What you might ask is not the only thing that has happened? The aunt’s death? The missing boy? The runaway mother? You fret at the puzzle wondering why.
In the end it is a book about memories weighed down heavily by grief. The only happy voice perhaps is that of Annakutty herself and her recollections of her one legged husband following her on a bus and offering to go to the ends of the earth with her in search of her son. And even that has the neighbours spitefully wondering whether she was even married at all.
Not Only The Things That Have Happened by Mridula Koshy
Published by Fourth Estate in India, 2012
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