A Place of no Importance is a collection of 13 short stories written by Veena Muthuraman, an Indian writer based in Edinburgh. The stories are set in the nondescript village of Ayyanarpatti. The village at the cusp of the great Indian urbanisation forms the perfect backdrop for her stories which are an attempt to bring forth the rocky journey of its people towards embracing the modern, while still heavily entrenched in their old superstitions, rituals and social dogmas.
As always I will begin with the cover, which has a couple of young boys running through a field against a setting sun. Quite apt I must say. I loved reading the Author’s note, where she reminisces about her visit to Ayyanarpatti during Deepavali which inspired this collection
‘It was the first time in the almost three decades I had known this place that I realized that it changed with seasons and it was not always dry and parched like summer….’
‘….I wanted to catch this way of life before it completely vanished, before all we have left are festivals which become meaningless and mindless…’ And I must say the author does a great job of it.
Each of the thirteen stories though distinctly different from one another have a few common characters, just like it is in small cities and villages where most people know each other and there is probably just one big shop owner or the tea stall owner at the bus stop whom everyone knows or that one person who is the right hand man of the MLA who throws his weight around or that curios, gossip mongering young girl.
Simply told, her stories bring a smile to your lips and if you have lived in a small town or visited your grandparents in idyllic villages you are sure to relate to them. Her strength of course is her characters. Her attention to how her characters speak, behave, react make them come alive. In all her stories she touches upon social evils, superstitions, mindless rituals, at times subtly , like in ‘A festive Suicide’ ‘Prelude to a wedding’ or the ‘The Amman of Saris’ and at times they form the very crux of the story like in ‘God’s own Country’ and a ‘House on Upper Street’
A common theme that runs through her stories are the silent but strong women she builds her stories around, be it Rukkamma of ‘A New Beginning’ or Kalai of ‘A New Release’ or Kanaka Achi of ‘Scenes from a Scandal’ they will definitely find a place in your thoughts and heart.
She also tries to captures the mad rush of people to move to distant countries as unskilled labourers as they try to give their families a better life and the resulting frustration when they are tired of a life of toil and wish to come back to their villages ‘Five years of breaking and lifting stones in Singapore and all that is left is a colour TV and a wife with saris and jewellery from the latest Nalli Silks billboards…’ Natesan reminisces in ‘The Demon wind of Adi’
My favourite story however happens to be ‘God’s own country’ where Nithya spoils the local councillor’s bid to usurp land for a fake International School. How you ask? Well, using the one weapon which never fails ‘The crowd went wild. The Remover of Obstacles, the God of beginnings, found on this land? They started running towards where Kuppan was digging’ [By the way, I loved Nithya, the feisty, forever snooping, young girl of Ayyanarpatti]
The writer has based all of these stories on the months of the Tamil Calendar starting with Aipasi, the month of Deepavali. While in some stories the significance of the particular month is beautifully woven in, in most of them I could not see a relation, but I am not complaining, given the beautiful sojourn that the authors gives us of her native village. So go give it a read.
The book is available on Juggernaut books