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Published on: 11/30/23 6:42 AM

Book review: Sakina`s Kiss by Vivek Shanbagh

SAKINA`S KISS by Vivek Shanbhag. Penguin Vintage Books.

Shanbhag makes the reader work, asking  more questions than supplying  answers,  in Sakina`s Kiss. The story presents us with Venkataramana/ Venkatraman/Venkat, who seems to be your common or garden irascible old man. Until you realise he`s not that old. Until he gives vent to his political beliefs, his innate chauvinism, beliefs  that reveal him to be anything but a quiet and equable man. Until you read of his larger family`s equation with his maternal uncle Ramana.

This is not the story of Venkat. It is of how Venkat and his intelligent wife Viji are suddenly plunged into panic when their daughter Rekha goes missing  from the village house in the Malnad area.

But it is Venkat who owns the story, making us acknowledge the many like him, flawed people who for the most part of their lives, try to conceal their seething emotions  under a patina of equanimity. Is this a small man living a small life? That’s for the reader to decide.

There is a descriptive passage about a wire that held letters to the family impaled on it, so they could be read and re-read, which is masterly. Elsewhere, walking through his Bangalore apartment which has been burgled, Venkat muses: Something has happened here but I don’t know what. A sharp knife has been thrust in and removed so quickly that there is no trace of blood anywhere. I am waiting for the blood to spurt out and show me the wound.

Srinath Perur`s translation is a very accomplished one, letting Venkat`s voice come through with no attempts at subtlety. The reader has to remind themselves that they are reading a translation from Kannada, the flow is that seamless.

There is no character called Sakina in the book. Yet the explanation for the title is another unsettling shard of jagged glass. The story,  to borrow a phrase used by the author in the book, is like hot ghee in the mouth: too good to spit out, too painful to swallow.

flawshuman naturePenguin Vintage BooksprejudicesSakina`s KissVivek Shanbagh

Sheila Kumar • November 30, 2023

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