Whispers from the past
from FOLKS MAGAZINE
Author: Shreekumar Varma
Award-winning poet of Dark Lord and Bow of Rama, Shreekumar Varma, has penned another gripping volume, Maria’s Room, a novel longlisted for the inaugural Man Asian Literary Prize. Set against the backdrop of Goa, with flashes of the past from Chennai and Kerala that present the reader with a kaleidoscope of memories to choose from, Maria’s Room depicts Raja Prasad’s journey from the present to the past and back.
At the commencement of the novel, one gets the sense of moving along a slow, winding river but as one progresses further into the novel, the current of the stream picks up. Tactically divided into three parts, each part gives the reader vital information to solidify one’s understanding of the central character, Raja. Overall, the rain-lashed, dreary and dark setting provides a very somber atmosphere through the novel, correlating with the protagonist’s mood.
The first part is the foundation of Raja’s history which becomes a vital link in solving the mystery behind Maria. The second and third parts are where the actual action takes place. The complicated relationship between the guilt-ridden Raja and the “delectable” Lorna comes into play from the second part onwards where we see the past clash with the present. Raja’s bizarre companionship with Fritz at the Capo’ Sun seems intriguing yet aggravating at times, its importance revealed to us only in the last part. The third part is like a fast-paced thriller where the mystery of Maria’s past and Raja’s existing predicament come together in a frenzied embrace to spring the most unbelievable surprise at the reader.
“What did Goa have to offer? Its beaches and its old-world, Portuguese-driven culture, its charming Konkan tradition, its music and good cheer, feni and drugs, a couldn’t-care-less attitude, its hospitality, churches and temples, and the gift of slow time.” This beautifully languorous description of Goa’s beaches, churches, villages and people creates a hypnotic effect upon the reader. It is as if we are absorbed into the novel, along with Raja, trying to find the missing puzzle pieces that lead to uncovering the scandal behind Maria. The obscurity surrounding “The Other Thing” and the hesitancy of Mrs Pereira and Milton in divulging any information about Maria’s death adds to the element of curiosity. Throughout the book one feels as if there is an invisible force guiding Raja towards Maria, as if they are somehow connected despite being spatially separated by decades.
Raja reconciles two aspects of a writer — creator and imitator. For him, the moving power of the past is rooted in images of unfulfilled love and deception, with emphasis on what ought to be. Well into the third part of the novel, we see an explicit manifesto of his literary intentions: The genesis of the story, how he turned to writing to escape reality, the problems of inspiration, the creative process and the role of his untamed imagination. So often in the course of the novel Raja tries to understand what makes for a good story which, to him, is like a word picture or a speaking picture. There are whispers from the past that help guide him through his literary dilemma, but the effect of these “whispers” is nothing short of incredible. Not just Raja, the reader too is dazed by the discoveries he or she makes.
The primary theme deals with the inner conflicts that romance precipitates in a man. Raja is viewed from many angles — literary artist, creative genius, guilty husband, anxious lover and detached son. Dramatic and intense, Maria’s Room has the ability to make the reader grasp the book and not part with it till the last piece of the puzzle of this mental jigsaw is assembled satisfactorily. The final chapter of the book is the most attention-grabbing, so I suggest pick up Maria’s Room and get started in order to find out just how the psyche can play games with us when we least expect it