Saturday, August 20, Zero Degree - Charu Nivedita Originally published in , the book caused a stir in the Tamil Literary scene for its non-linear narrative and the brutal and explosive description of violence, torture and sex. It was beyond what the conservative society could take. Experimental novel with narrative technique moving between traditional styled story telling to poems, to plain single lined comments, monologues, telephone conversations and what not The publishers blurb announces this as transgressive fiction , the book was a huge success in Tamil and in Malayalam, to which it was translated almost immediately. The new age literature, I have observed, has taken up new ways of communication with the readers. From the time tested, traditional styles of 20th century, we see the use of latest jargons in the market place appearing in abundance in the books of young writers books in the new century.

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In the preface to the Malayalam translation, the famous writer Zacharia heaps praise on the novel. He says Malayalam writers are all stuck in the Romantic rut while Tamil literature has forged ahead, with a novel like Zero Degree which breaks all conventions.

In that, he is right. Charu Nivedita has thrown off all conventional restraints in the creation of this "anti-novel": a mix of narrative, poetry, doodles and sheer absurdity. It is supposedly written to an unknown woman reader, who may be doing any number of things including getting raped or giving birth at the time of its composition. The author says it is gleaned from the notes of the writers Surya, Muniyandi and Mishra: however, he immediately confesses that he has taken a rather broad license with the editing of the same - adding and omitting things at will.

He also says his method of translation of Hindi is that of the village idiot Koti Kuppan, who answers all questions with translations of rhyming words from English to Tamil, bearing no relation to the original question. This most unreliable of narrators then goes on to drown the unsuspecting reader in a mix of pain, death, sex, sadism and defecation. The chapters - many a time not following any syntactic rules or punctuation - are a disjointed mix of crimes against women, scenes of cruel torture, unbelievably monstrous sex a mythical character from the ninth century moves around with a penis many metres long, looking for a vagina deep enough to receive it!

Towards the end, some sort of story develops, however. Surya marries a battered woman called Avantika, and the novel is in part her story, written in the form of a letter by Surya to his estranged daughter Genesis. This is no doubt a very serious work of art lovingly composed by the author; however, I find that I cannot rate it.

The story failed to touch me at all. All those descriptions of sex and torture were disturbing at first, but the palate grew jaded very fast as the novel progressed. I do not know whether it is a problem with the translation - maybe the novel would be more powerful in the original Tamil. Or maybe, it was just not written for me: I was in way too deep. If you like a challenge, do read it. Fortunately, an English translation is available for those who do not know Tamil or Malayalam.


Zero Degree

Of this, I have spent 18 years of my life in Mylapore, a place I consider a city in itself. The beach, which is a five-minute walk from my house, and the neighbouring Pattinampakkam fisher community, have given me some of the most poignant stories to remember. Something as mundane as a visit to the beach every morning to buy fish for my cats teaches me a great deal about these people and their ethos. The first time I watched the fish seller scale and clean my fish for a whole hour before packing it up for me, I thought she would charge me a handsome sum for all that painstaking work. The Sai Baba temple in Mylapore transforms into a wonderland every Thursday. Looking at the swarm of people of all ages and backgrounds, and a road full of shops selling just about everything, I often imagine that perhaps the only thing one may not find in these stores is a live elephant.


Charu Nivedita



Marginal Man


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