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Second helping



Ravi Shankar Etteth. Photo: V.V. Krishnan.

SOME TWO years ago we were introduced to "The Tiger by the River". For those who enjoyed that safari, against a backdrop of Kerala royalty, novelist Ravi Shankar Etteth has recently come out with his second novel, "The Village of Widows" published by Penguin. If that one was doused with sadness and loss and tragic mysteries, this one seems to be deluged with a perspective on evil. If the author of "The Tiger" laced his prose with a poignant wistfulness, the raconteur of "The Village" is strident in his descriptions. And though this one too takes you back to a nostalgic panorama of green and paradox-ridden Kerala, the author lays out unsparingly the rank, raucous details, the pathos, the stench and gore of deeds in a story that touches on the seamier side of life. Murder and mayhem and dark secrets, is there a message here?

Protests the writer, "I'm not a priest. I'm not a preacher. It's not my job to give messages to people." He is just a writer, who "shares" with people "the weakness of betrayal and the extent of revenge" human beings can attain.

It's impolite to ask someone who writes on these subjects how autobiographical his fiction is. "It's difficult for people to pass through the tunnel and not to pass through it," admits the affable conversationalist. As for evil, "Evil is certainly stronger (than good) but it does not necessarily win in the end. Evil is more flamboyant, but essentially it makes its mistakes." Like day and night, says Ravi Shankar, good and evil exist in a constantly readjusting balance.

He may sound somewhat philosophical there, but he is certainly not one of those who feel their characters `come' to them and who write because they must. "I'm not doing a literary séance yaar!" he exclaims. Yet he sounds nicely mystical when he explains, "A story is something behind a fog. As you explore the fog, the pictures become clear. It's like going into a new country."

And luckily for his fans, he is currently exploring a new country.

It's too early to name it and too early to know the publisher, but it's likely to be on the map by the end of 2005, and it's fiction, since that is what he writes, saying he doesn't have the discipline to research and present a factual work. Well, some journalists put together their old articles in the form of a book. "Oh rubbish," declares the Deputy Editor of India Today. "I don't take my journalism seriously at all!" Shall we call it, wordsmith's licence?

ANJANA RAJAN

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