Manu Bhattathiri Short Story Rain’s Worst Enemy Book Review

This rainy season, meeting her again, the girl in the butterfly cloud, was it purely by chance? Or in the 34th year of his landmark novel, Satanic Verses, should Salman Rushdie be helplessly stabbed multiple times like a butterfly, trapped in a vengeful malicious network? The girl in Rushdie’s novel is Ayesha, a prophet in a butterfly cloak followed by a band of her followers whom she leads to their demise.

Nothing beats Manu Bhattathiri’s cornucopia of absurdities to entertain us in his latest short story collection. Like the early Rushdie, Bhatatiri was a copywriter with the same headline-grabbing talent for making connections and wrapping them up in neat singularities.

Yet at its center, in a story called “The Singing Butterfly of Duabaag,” comes an equally captivating and delicate vignette. This girl is just another girl on the train. We see her through the eyes of a fellow passenger, an older man, indeed most Bhattathiri narrators tend to be, as he watches her leaf through a book about butterflies. She has an equally catchy name – Aira. This suggests that she is a creature of air, fluttering gently across the pages as the story unfolds.

Keralites and their obsession with leaky bladders

Ella leads the way into the enchanted garden in the middle of the forest. As he follows her, the narrator feels himself melting into her powdered arms and eyes, like the black markings on a butterfly’s wing.

The butterfly chaser on the train tells us he’s a poet who needs to pee. He is struggling to control the urge due to his fear of using a dirty toilet. The extreme need for hygienic purity seems to affect other characters as well. Let us add, with a quick nod to the direction of such esoteric precursor, satirist OV Vijayan, the Kerala writer has a tendency to obsess over leaky bladders and imploding bowels.

This must be due to the incessant drizzle that forms the title of the first story. It made a soft giggle as it fell from the sky. Jogging on the train before heading into her garden, Aira was seen guiding elderly passengers to clean toilets. The romantic instinct of a Keralatic obviously thrives on such delicate interactions.

In “Seraphim Shit,” the old grandfather who loses control of his sphincter and defecates on the windowsill explains that it’s the visiting angel who has the problem. Bhattathiri described the horror of being a family caring for aging parents during the final stages of his life. It’s both an ironic and sad account of the insult of old age and how Grandpa used the situation to his advantage. He is especially kind to a maid named Latna, who subtly benefits from the unexpected wealth left by the seraph on the windowsill.

lure of the bay

It is curious what happened to another rich crevice of Keralate’s literary grenade. The class war, the haunting influence of the narratives of victims living on the margins in the novels of the previous generation of writers? Does the lure of the Gulf eliminate these problems? Or a longer embrace of the lascivious pleasures of the West?

Bhattathiri deftly shifted his base. In the case of “The Difficult Customer,” he takes aim at the idealistic anxieties of the urban elite, as an obese couple swans into a hair salon and spa and demands a haircut for their husband. “I’m allergic to dirty sheets,” Mr. D’Souza says cheerfully. Georgie, the barber with prominently colored hair, wrapped him in a sheet. Mrs. D’Souza babbled like a turkey hen giving orders. Their need for attention increases with the groveling of salon owners and staff.

“There will be blood,” a character mutters in “The Answer,” as Bhattathiri deftly throws his ball of presence through the net between scientist and believer.

In fact, he suggests, it helps with good digestion.

rain’s worst enemy

Manu Bhatatiri

Aleph Books

¥699

Reviewers are Chennai-based critics and cultural commentators.

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