KITH AND KIN
The Matriarch And Her Family
Sheila Kumar weaves an interesting story around the characters of the Melakat clan
Abraham C. Mathews
Kith And Kin: Chronicles Of A Clan By Sheila Kumar Rupa: Pages: 248 Price: Rs 250
If you see Kith And Kin as a set of separate short stories (19 in all), it is a delightful peek into the remnants of a fictional clan, the Melekat Tharavadu, characterised by all round snobbishness and ready wit, personified by its now deceased matriarch, Ammini Amma.
Once the most prosperous and powerful family in town, the second generation is left picking up the pieces, trying to break away from the shackles of stiff upper lip tradition. A
transition that is, however, managed only by the third generation, for whom Melekat is just an identity, perhaps nothing more than an explanation for the few weird traits they all share.
There is Suvarna, Suv, who is bequeathed the ancestral home, Mon Repos. The only problem is she doesn’t want it. It is for Sumant that she pines, though she ‘chooses not to own him’. There is Seema, having to sit through a school reunion of her husband’s, wondering what was behind the smile of Sameer, a man with his own secrets. There’s her sister, Sindhu, carrying on a semi-furtive affair with a married man. There’s Veena and Vasu, siblings who must pretend to be oblivious to their mother’s delusions of grandeur. There’s even a journal-keeping ghost of an ex-Melekat, who’s not cut out for haunting.
Every story brings out the contrast between perceptions and reality, our thoughts actions inevitably influenced by our perception of situations. If only we knew what the other person was thinking, how much more easier would life have been!
On page 225, the reader is introduced to the 18th set of characters in the book. One of them, Dakshu doesn’t see the point in continuing with her husband. But then it doesn’t make sense in leaving him either. Yes, an affair could be the solution to the boredom plaguing her life.
Meanwhile, ogling at Dakshu by the pool is a man, practicing a dignified response to his wife, who he suspects will leave him soon. Back home, Dakshu’s husband wonders why on earth he married his wife, dumber than the prototype dumb blonde. But does he have a real reason to divorce right now? Perhaps, an affair. And if he kept matters discreet, his wife wouldn’t even cotton on.
It’s the myriad of whimsical characters, the pacy, witty writing, and the endings that define most chapters that makes Kith And Kin a treat to read.
Way too many characters, all related in some knotted fashion, distinguished by not more than one consonant in their names. There’s Seema, Beena, Veena and Leela, none of whom are siblings. But then again, if you were ‘mallu’, you would understand. Neither would you mind, if you were brought up on those shores, the several references to Baranis and Nayadis, Valichapadus and the local Pooram.
In fact, like me, you may be thankful to the author for demonstrating how a ‘tharavadu’ and the people who live in it can be way more whimsical than anything you have ever experienced.
Yes indeed, if she still has another story in her, and that makes its way into a novel, I will be reaching out for that too.
THE READING CORNER BLOG
Kith and Kin
24 August 20012
Weaving a complex web of characters, Sheila Kumar tells the tales of the Melekat family belonging to the Nair community of Kerala.
Through an impressive family tree, we are introduced to the clan at the head of which is Ammani Amma the matriarch who more or less rules the roost from her family home Mon Repos. Her descendants include her son and two daughters and their respective families and also her brothers and her mother.
The story unfolds with Sumant receiving a call from his childhood friend Suvarna, grand-daughter of Ammini Amma, asking him if he wished to buy Mon Repos. As he considers his options, and prepares to travel to Mon Repos, the entire tapestry of the family history is told in the form of short stories.
The stories connect from one character to another, quickly shifting the reader’s empathy from one protagonist to the next thereby giving us a clear and rich perspective of each characters point of view.
Padmini is mourning her husband’s death. He had a vile and vicious tongue and a cruel streak and a part of her is glad to have been relieved from him. She feels free and is eager to begin afresh, a life of less penury and control with her children. She resents her mother Ammmani Amma asserting authority in her own home especially when she tries to send her faithful servant away.
Twenty- two -year- old Beena begins the series of boy meet girl to find the right match. Each meeting is defined by the colour of her clothes. Which colour would prove to be her lucky colour finally?
Veena was unable to come to terms with her mother Leela’s imperfections that made her tell tall
tales of events that supposedly happened.
Ammini Amma’s descendant is now a ghost. A ghost that wears jeans unlike the ethereal white shroud. And she keeps a journal. A journal of what naughty, scary things she does after becoming a ghost. And before she fades, she must write how she actually died.
Dakshu is desperate to leave her husband, and is looking for a good reason to do so. Meanwhile, her husband also has a few thoughts on his subject matter.
Ammu decides to save the hotel cost and spend the night at the airport. Unexpected to her, she meets many a colourful characters. An experience that anecdotes are made of.
The stories flit from beginning to end like a slice of life and ends in an unexpected manner. They
almost do not end and leave behind much to imagination. One is left wondering what happens next and the ending is ripe for a richer tale to be woven.
While the theme is traditional Malabar settings, the characters are modern and contrast with the
settings and give an unexpected texture to the entire tapestry.
I loved the contrasting imagery that was formed as each character’s Iives beyond Mon Repos
Title- Kith and Kin
chronicles of a clan
Author- Sheila Kumar
Price- Rs 250
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 27, 2012
“Kith and Kin – Chronicles of a Clan” – A book review
If a novel is about one’s family, it can be an interesting one to write about. Semi-autobiographical, yes, but painting pictures with words that are almost true to life can be tedious still what with each family member’s character traits, quirks and the likes. But what if you were writing about a fictional family, across three generations, living far and wide, yet each one somehow remains true to their roots? Tedious, yes, but doesn’t feel so when they get to reading Sheila Kumar’s Kith and Kin – Chronicles of a Clan
The book begins with the author introducing the large Melekat family – describing every one of the 19 characters! It is like tracing back a large family tree, more of a navigating tool to help you through the book and avoid confusion.
The elegant White Rose of the town, Ammini Amma – standing tall and stoic, never letting anyone know who she really is or what she really feels is the family matriarch of the Melekat clan and runs her huge house ‘Mon Repos’ proudly. However, her children are different. While Ammini Amma remains unreadable, the author continues to spin her web of tales from the lives of her
The descendants of Amma, aka current Nair family, are oscillating between what they feel, what they really want and how their life really is! They struggle to keep up with the charming and elegant life their mother led. Far from perfect, their stories are marred by failed marriages,
unhappy relationships, commitment phobias, treachery, loneliness, jealousy and insecurity, even bordering on dementia. On the other hand, the younger generation, i.e. the children of her children, look up to her for solace and peace whenever they find themselves in a soup. Unlike their own parents who fail to get going with the fast-changing times, the younger ones feel that
their grandmother would have understood.
Having left their home town of South Malabar, the Melekats have settled across Mumbai, Bangalore and the US. However, what bind them together apart from their similar aquiline features, bouts of tantrums and their arrogant nature is their mother and their home, Mon Repos. Amma and their childhood family home are recurring themes through the book.
What really intrigues one is that there is not one chapter from the matriarch’s perspective. Everyone seems to be talking about her, cursing her maybe, but she is not the one to talk! Very deliberate, I’d say, as the author stays true to Amma’s character – never a word out of line and never the one to clarify.
Some stories have unexpected endings, taking you by surprise. While stories like Ants, Colours and Passing Through, the author adapts different forms of narratives, establishing at once establishing the very trait and essence of these characters.
With Ants, she writes through the perspective of a young niece who has come visiting her aging aunts who tend to the huge house, running it smoothly, devoting their entire lives to the structure. Long widowed, they continue to live is a microcosm which seems like a tiny spec, hardly relatable
or of any importance. Through Colours, the author explains that we still live in a world where superstitions hold a majority. They can decide one’s life’s path!
In Passing Through, while stranded at an alien airport, the protagonist battles her inner demons of insecurities. I think this one came the closest to grand dame Ammini Amma! And the end will surprise everyone. While I do not want to divulge much and ruin the fun, I will only say it ends at Mon Repose – French for
my place of rest.
In short, the book is thoroughly enjoyable. Every story adds to the reader’s experience, leaving one with an ache to know more about the Melekats.
Might just buy this book after reading the review.
Agree with Arti… it does offer something unique to the reader
, telling interlinked tales from multiple perspectives.
@ ArtiThank you buddy! I am glad you liked this one. It is a good book. Offers yummy
Mallu flavors 🙂