Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 08/27/23 5:57 AM

Book review: Soft Animal by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan

Love in the time of lockdown

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan spins a most readable tale of how a woman in her late thirties, married to Mukund, who seems to be quite a nice guy, jobless and facing an endless number of lockdown days back when Covid-19 raged, is forced to take a close, grim look at herself and what she wants in life. The answer obviously is: not this.

The protagonist Mallika Rao has a wicked sense of humour, somewhat dulled now by all the odds she perceives are stacked against her. This is a book which has its main character first standing on the verge and staring down into the abyss, then slowly slipping into it, but not so deep that she can`t haul herself out. Nowhere in the story is the D word mentioned, yet it is clear to the reader that Mallika is suffering from depression.

And in this less than happy state, everything looks jaundiced to Mallika: her life, her appearance, her neighbours in the Smriti Vihar residential complex, her friends, even her sister… and of course, her partner. What escapes her prejudiced and judgmental eye is her parents` dog Gudiya whom she is forced to babysit (dogsit?) while the lockdown continues, and Brig Rit, the retired Brigadier at whose house she drops in often to offer help, an offer that is inevitable refused.

The wit is pronouncedly sardonic. The progress of the coronavirus and its impact on residential associations are detailed with a dash of delicious cynicism: bhajans relayed over the loudspeaker in the colony; strangely delineated walking paths so no one comes abreast of others; advice on how to keep the virus at bay with ginger, honey and chanting; social distancing at the grocer`s.

Not so hilarious but as acutely detailed are the ways in which  Mukund falls down on the job as husband: an inability to stack his used plates in the sink, leave alone wash them; to dust, even as dust starts to pile up since the maid is not permitted to come; how he seems to be playing to a seen and unseen gallery; how living with him can be the loneliest thing in the world.

And behind the derisive humour is a tale of sinking, then swimming, that is truly evocative.

Soft Animal by Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan. Penguin Books. Pages 261. Rs 399.

This appeared in the Literary Review of 27 August 2023.



a lockdown talea tale of sinking then swimmingbook reviewbooksmarital discoveriesMeenakshi Reddy MadhavanPenguin BooksSoft Animal

Sheila Kumar • August 27, 2023

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