Set like a medieval tapestry, this fantastic novel offers a rich
petit point set with animals, people, trees, the sea, prodigal
sons and warring parents, passionate romances and gothic fortresses.
It begins with the return of Nikhil Figgis, a young theatre director
from New York, to Chennai. Within minutes of his arrival, a taxi
driver makes off with his suitcase that contains a precious copy
of the book, Georgetown, which he wishes to adapt into a play.
We then meet Apu, who runs a detective agency. Nikhil hires her
to locate S.K. Naidu—who turns out to be a cross between Salinger
and Miss Havisham, lives in a fortress-like house and entertains
no visitors. He is also Nikhil’s long-lost father and the author
Delicately, Murari weaves Apu, her family and Nikhil’s estranged
American wife, Renee, into the plot. Human relationships and a
comic under plot that involves a crocodile in Nikhil’s bathtub
intertwine like a tangle of bright skeins. The crocodile wraps
itself around Nikhil’s heart and when, at the end, he releases
it into a river, both their Homeric journeys come to a dramatic
close. In terms of sheer audacity and the liberties he takes with
his tale, few can match Murari’s Arrangements of Love. OUTLOOK.
LE COEUR ENTRE DEUX MONDES
A partir des themes de la famille et de l’exil, de un roman enivrant
sur I’Inde d’aujourd’hui
LES ARRANGEMENTS DE L’AMOUR
Traduit de L’anglais (Inde) par Pierre Charras. Mercure de France
Il ne taut pas simplement lire Les Arrangements de l’amour mais
d’abord lui preter l’oreille. Comme on écoule un chant, dont la
melodie nous est radicaleiment étrangère. Comme on se laisse envelopper
par une sidérante mélopee. Nous voilà en Inde, du cote de Madras.
Les rues exhalent ses effluves, ceux des bhajis et des dosas prëparës
dans quelque gargote et ses partums venus de la fraicheur des
jardins ou s’enhardit la fleur de Jasmin que les jeunes femmes
aiment a porter au poignet. Un peu plus loin, a peine sorti de
la ville, l’horizon rosit sous le soleil qui darde ses rayons
sur les champs de piments rouges, rivallsant avec l’éclat des
plantations de manguiers.
C’est dans cet univers saturé d’odeurs et de couleurs que Nikhul,
un jeune homme d’ori- gine indienne né et élevé aux Etats-Unis
débarque un jour pour y chercher le pere qu’il croyait mort. Une
quête racontee a quatre voix. Celle de Nikhil, le fils: celle
de la mere, Susie, qui a émigré aux Etats-Unis, fuyant sa culture,
reniant jusqu’à son propre prénom Indien; celle du pére, reclus,
inconsolable depuis le depart de Susie, qui ne sait plus ce qu’amour
veut dire et enfin celle d’une jeune detective, Apu, la belle
Indienne. Des voix qu se relaient les unes les autres, confessant
leurs amours dans la secret de leur sollioque.
Cette qu du pere sert de pretext a Timeri N Murari pour s’amuser
a travers le personnage de Nikhui, a mettre en scene non pas le
choc mais le frotterment de deux civilisations que ne séparent
pas seulement quelques milliers de kilométres. Une societe liberal
face a une société administree, le mariage d’amour contre le mariage
arrange, le rationnel contre la superstition... L’affaire semble
entendue. Et pourtant Timeri N. Murari considère ces deux mondes
dans leur complexite, avec autant d’agacements que de tendresse
contenue. LA CROIX
COUP DE COEUR
MADRAS MON AMOUR
Qu’il soit rarement a la hauteur de nos espérances, se fasse attendre,
blesse ou transporte, on n’échappe pas a l’amour. Les trois personnages
de Timeri N. Murari, ex-joumaliste au < Guardian et auteur
du best-seller Taj > se debattent entre raison et sentiments.
Nikhil, metteur en scene indien elevé a New York, pas vraiment
remis de son recent divorce avec une actrice blonde, débarque
a Madras pour y chercher son père, un mystérieux écrivain disparu
de la circulation. Pour le retrouver, il fait appel a Apu, detective
privee sexy et émancipée qui, après la perte de son grand amour,
a épousé le candidat ideal selon sa mere un riche Indien installe
aux Etats-Unis et en quête d’une épouse en sari. C’est aussi cc
dont parle l’auteur; l’oscillation perpetuelle de ses concitoyens
entre modernité et tradition. On reve de culture américaine et
de liberte, mais on retoune au pays pour se chercher une épouse
(proposée sur un plateau par les parents), on vit a Chicago ou
a Houston, mais pas question de renoncer au principe de la dot
(pourtant interdite en Inde !). A Madras, malgré so bonne volonte,
le jeune auteur se sentira aussi paumé que le crocodile qu’il
a frouvé dans la baignoire de sa chambre d’hôtel ! C’est drôle,
grave et léger a la fois, comme l’amour, parfois. ELLE
MANY FACETS OF LOVE.
THE TITLE of this book, with the added adjunct that it is "a
rollicking exploration of love in its many guises" can make
you want to read it for the wrong reasons. You may know that the
author has written for the stage, directed (I didn’t. The idiot
AP did) his own film called The Square Circle.
that he also won acclaim for directing (yes I did) the stage presentation
at Leicester Haymarket Theatre; above
all, that his earlier novel Taj got
Bill Aitken to say in the Sunday Observer that "only a masterly
historical novelist like Timeri Murari could skate so teasingly
near the lip of the volcano. The structure of the novel is as
fascinating as the building it describes". Or, in the words
of The Telegraph that it was "an expertly crafted novel with
richly textured details, especially of violence and eroticism".
The promise of "a rollicking exploration of love" in
the new book therefore seemed to suggest the possibility of a
rather facetious comedown. Actually, it turned out to be nothing
of the kind. For a long time I had kept looking at the book from
afar and was loath to pick it up. When I finally did, I could
not put it down. It grips you not for its lust, but its sadness,
a veiled sense of the distance between relationships. It is an
exploration of identity; love and sex come only as incidentals
to the search for not necessarily sexual but personal, individual
freedom. That too is suffused with a lingering sense of always
feeling apart as an alien in those caught by the almost unthinking
compulsion to opt for the American dream and those who are left
This sense of the other is implicit even in the construction of
the book. The four main characters look at their involvements
with each other and the course that events take from their own
points of view. It is a theatrical device; it heightens the effect,
but it also gives you a four-dimensional insight into events as
they determine the course of each individual's inter-action with
the other. There is Sushima in her American reincarnation as Susie.
In one wild but definitive moment she leaves a husband, a tradition,
a country behind and carries away an unborn child with her to
an American lover and a life, as she says, of freedom. It is the
fulfilment of a dream she would constant1y have as a child of
wanting to find a way out of the net that would lie between her
and the sky through which she would never find the opening to
But as her Indian husband would recall when he could finally share
the trauma with that then unborn son who finds his way back to
his roots, "'I had a strange sensation, an unexpected emotion
at that moment I envied them. How often can it happen in life
that people, strangers from the far ends of the earth should have
the great good fortune to meet and fall instantly in love and
lust?" That is S.K Naidu. the father left behind, a famous
author whose book the son finds wrapped in a red saree in his
mother's trunk left lying in the loft as a requiem to the past
That is what sets off the son's trail back to Madras, now called
Chennai, where past and present mingle in the great warmth of
a reunion with an unremembered father. Nikhil, alias Nicky, a
son he did know existed. A fact he seeks to blot out even after
knowing, till the natural bond begins to bridge the unnatural
distance, and even the defiant hurt recluse of a father begins
to mellow with a sense of love regained.
There is Nicky, the American's own awareness of being different
and permanently "the lone brown in a classroom, on a baseball
field or a train …I had existed always with a secret fear of rejection.’
He comes to India to find both his father and author of the hidden
manuscript called "Georgetown". He finds it ideal for
a stage production he has in mind. In the process he accepts Indian
life, like the surf on the sea "rhythmically soothing and
comforting ...there was something so patient in its ebb and flow,
a few million years of wearing down the shores, licking away the
sands." Nicky does go back to the U.S., but before becoming
only Nikhil and finally, Nikhil Naidu.
The so-called rollicking exploration of love is even sadder in
the case of Apu, the daring but only partially daring young lissom,
dark beauty of a detective who discovers India for Nikhil, but
loses her heart to confusion – between a lost remembered love
and a desperate desire to seek redemption, again with a near Indian
millionaire, ‘a citizen of the U.S.A’, say her relatives in awed
terms, only to find that he is part of an international animal-poaching
enterprise. Perhaps Timeri Murari’s final judgment on identity
is contained in that little priceless observation about British
rule – ‘I thought they had enriched India intellectually, while
raping her at the same time. That was the way of all relationships.’
A CHENNAI MYSTERY
THERE is a novel by William Faulkner balled The Sound and the
Fury in which he narrated events through the experiences of different
characters, Roshomon-like, moving from one mind to the next, one
heart to the next. It resulted in a heart-breaking classic. Timeri
N Murari uses the same method in his book - a style of structure,
mind you, which is by no means easy to pull off successfully.
That is, however, an interesting feature of The Arrangements of
Love. After the initial impatience the reader might feel, and
the occasional confusion, the voyeuristic feeling of travelling
through four peoples thoughts and emotions, is quite delicious.
The story is an unusual mystery of sorts, which unfolds as a journey
of a young American-born Indian, a writer of plays, who's looking
for his estranged father in Chennai. It's the first time "Nikhil/Nicky"
has stepped into India because his mother has raised him with
the conviction that India has nothing that's not despicable in
it. His father, like him is a writer, but one of great repute,
who is still ravaged by the painful memories of his wife leaving
him for his American friend; hell, he didn't even know he had
a son! Nicky has hired a private detective to help him find his
father and is surprised to know it's a woman! She's convinced
she's real good at her job, he's not. Expectedly they start feeling
attracted to each other; the fact that she'll soon be having an,
"arranged engagement" to an NRI not withstanding. All
these complications are tied together by the most unusual thing
of all - a baby croc, that the playwright finds in the bathtub
of his hotel! It's bizarre and quite funny, and the twisted way
in which the "Croc block" resolves itself is well-plotted.
The different conflicts in the book: the father's hatred for his
betraying wife, the "American" playwright's disgust
with corruption in India, not to mention pollution, the frustration
of the female detective in a male-dominated profession - all these
find a final resting place through the telling of the tale, as
most of the prejudices that these people have start deteriorating.
The characters rise above their weaknesses.
And yet, maybe this should have been a shorter book. Maybe Murari
should have stuck to the model by Faulkner and not gone back and
forth between the minds of the characters so often. This causes
repetition of events, which only at times is interesting. It's
important for the author know the limits of such a technique.
Clichés have to be thrown out window and emotions must be deeply
felt, otherwise the reader wonders: Why do I have to be inside
four peoples' minds constantly even when it’s not riveting?
Faulkner had also used very different styles of "talking"
for each character, which powerfully evoked distinct personalities,
effectively conveying the individual maelstrom in each heart.
Yes, Murari is a clever user of words, but in language each character
only marginally differs from another, despite the fact they come
from different continents, different generations. Painting each
person in definite strokes right down to their lingo would have
added lip-smacking salt to proceedings.
And it’s the salt that makes all the difference. A book like a
film, I’m learning, should not just be one which the reader is
made to ‘pass through’. The book has to call him. Arrangements
of Love does that successfully.INDIAN EXPRESS.
THE HYBRID MIND.
Delving into the mind of an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi)
is at once insightful and amusing. The stereotype - the first
generation of immigrants want to blend seamlessly into the new
country. The second generation feels vaguely restless, cultural
misfits and they return to the country of their origin in search
of their roots. This is the central theme of all novels written
by NRIs/expatriates and. this book by Timeri N Murari is no exception
to the rule.
The theme is simple. Nicky /Nikhil comes to India armed with a
stage adaptation of the novel to look for its author, who is also
the father he has never known. The chapters move at a rapid pace
with multiple first person shifts.
In India, Nicky is sucked into a whirlwind of events that leave
him bewildered. His American sense of humour is misunderstood
by the police and they think he is a terrorist because he casually
remarks that there is a-bomb in his lost suitcase! His character
comes across as wishy-washy and he is caught between the world
he knows and the one he has just stepped into.
The characters in the novel are quirky and their lives seem so
complicated. Susie/Sushima, Nicky's mother leaves India to marry
an American. After that she breaks all her ties and when asked
says "I'm from New York." She finds India a "deceitful
place and most confusing too."
Susie tells her son that his father is dead. But while smoking
a joint in the attic of his Westchester home, Nicky finds a tattered
copy of a novel among the folds of a resplendent red silk sari.
Contemporary events like the 9/11 bombings on the World Trade
Centre are skilfully interwoven into the story. Susie dies in
the attack and Nicky makes his pilgrimage to India.
The author has written novels, non-fiction as well as screenplays
and stage scripts. His film The Square Circle made it to Time
magazine’s top ten best films.
To the Indian sensibility certain episodes are quite bizarre.
For instance finding a baby crocodile in the hotel's bathtub and
the subsequent bureaucratic hassles is rather improbable; Apu
the pretty detective playing striptease poker in front of lascivious
men and yet going in for a tame arranged marriage is hard to digest!
A lot of American phrases are interspersed with Tamil words like
"chinnaveedu." The language and word usage are so different
to what one is accustomed to reading, that it adds a piquant flavour.
Like the Indian sun "swaggering and arrogant, full of itself,
hurling down its tremendous heat and light"
Perhaps nothing surprises the western mind more than how Indians
docilely agree to arranged marriages. The spunky detective Apu
tells Nicky that one hopes to fall in love with the person he/she
marries. Although Nicky calls America a "schizophrenic"
country he goes back. But the reader is left with the feeling
that he will return to India and to Apu. DECCAN HERALD.
- What really keeps you going is a comedy of errors theme, a plot
driven by interesting characters, all interconnected by the strange
twist of destiny. A great read. FIRST CITY.