Wednesday 27 March 2024

Sakina's Kiss by Vivek Shanbhag

 'I  find getting killed preferable'

Vivek Shanbhag is a Kannada author and playwright became whose first book to be translated into English – 'Gachar Ghochar’, published in 2016 received a lot of critical acclaim and made him a household name in the world of Indian English fiction writing. It won numerous awards, was translated into many other languages world-wide and hence his next work was eagerly awaited. Sakina’s Kiss (Penguin Random House, 2023) is his new book (translated by Srinath Perur, who had  also translated Gachar Ghochar) and it does not disappoint though it is much lengthier (180 pages) than Gachar Ghochar (115 pages). I mentioned the length because brevity is Vivek’s strength and that made his first book so powerful.

A typical middle-class couple’s (Venkat and Viji) college going daughter, Rekha, goes to visit her ancestral village. Meanwhile, a couple of students from her college pay a visit to the couple enquiring about her. On further enquiry it is revealed that although the daughter left for home from the village, she then went incommunicado. The couple rush to the village where the ancestral home and the land is being looked after by Venkat’s uncle Antanna. A journalist in the village may or may not know about Rekha’s whereabouts. The visit brings back memories to Venkat of growing up in the village along with his extended family and he is forced to confront the unpleasant secrets buried there. The fragile inter and intra family relationships and complexities are gradually revealed though not explicitly (as I think is Vivek’s signature style). A lot is left unsaid and it is up to the reader to take the cues and interpret in his /her own way. There are multiple open possibilities and the dice can roll any which way.

Unlike Gachar Gochar, on occasions I did find the narrative meandering but not for long. Apart from the gaze on the frailties of human relations, this book also makes a telling commentary on several other issues plaguing the country including the state of journalism and students’ politics.

If you liked Gachar Gochar, you should go for this one as well. If you have not read either then my suggestion would be to embark on the journey asap.

- Amir Bashir

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