The ‘yakshi’ theme and stories about ‘yakshis’ are a commonplace, almost a cliche in Kerala folklore – the rough equivalent of ‘chudails’ in northern India. The particular charm of this story/novella lies in the imaginative weaving of the ‘yakshi’ motif into a very contemporary urban situation, the marriage of a young couple teetering on the brink of disaster, and the attempts to salvage it. If the usual urban tropes are there – the ‘other’ woman, the marriage counsellor – the creative departure lies in the counsellor’s suggested remedy, unusual, unorthodox and untried. That it succeeds may seem simplistic, but when you’ve examined the whole fabric of the book you realise the plausibility of the premise. Much of the credit for this must lie with Neelima Vinod’s narrative style, which is persuasive: she varies its tenor effortlessly between the contemporary (here and now) and the subtly archaic (where needed, especially the poetic passages).
There is too an overpowering erotic charge throughout the book, wonderfully understated, and thereby rendering it that much more urgent in its desire to be fulfilled. The power of suggestion, of gesture, of image is overwhelming in impact. Most so-called erotic literature unfortunately falls short; it is amazing that Neelima has invested her tale with all the desirable ingredients of this genre while steering it clear of the label of erotica. A finely entertaining read overall.
Unsettled is a tale of love lost and found, a tale of salvaging a dying relationship through a miracle of the past. When Divya chances upon her husband Raghav consoling his childhood friend Anu in a manner too close for comfort her harshest fears are realized. Her doubts about him having an affair seem valid after his growing proximity with Anu. Raghav on the other hand is exhausted with Divya’s prying questions and constant scrutiny. What they had, their rapport and love, is on the brink of collapse. But then Divya meets a counselor Dr. Ray as a last attempt to salvage her marriage and her life as a whole. Strangely though he points her towards Cherakad, her village, to seek answers, to heal the wounded relationship she is in.
Dr. Ray takes Divya back through clouds of memories into Cherakad where there is an ancient house, a big house, which according to legend is haunted by a yakshi, Thathri. The answer Dr. Ray says lies in the five hundred year old scrolls of love that Thathri guards. He nudges Divya and later Raghav to travel together, take a break from their lives and visit Cherkad to find the answer to their problems, the scrolls of love. Reluctantly and with questions in their minds, they travel to get the scrolls which has been guarded by a spirit. Are they successful? Do they get back their love? Well I can’t tell you that, can I? But I say this for sure that you’ll find the answers in the pages of Unsettled……….Overall, its a very satiating read.Just one trivial point, I would have preferred a better title!….read the entire review here.
Magical Realism and the post-colonial literary tradition seem to be inextricably inter-twined; and hurray for that! Unsettled is a fascinating read that inscribes a world full of magic, magical creatures and of course the most magical of all things: love.
The plot seems to be simple enough and then Neelima Vinod, the writer of Unsettled, skillfully reveals a story spanning centuries, a long forgotten Royal Court and a contemporary couple seeking marriage counseling. Their journey is complex and wrought with fear and doubt, but then which journey of the heart isn’t? The pursuit of love is a dangerous gamble. The Yakshi, though the antagonist, a restless ghost still looking for lost love, wreaking vengeance, is somehow the most memorable character. The love of a mother and how it can even transcend boundaries of time and death is heart-wrenchingly portrayed here. It was the story of the poet and the Yakshi that holds the reader’s attention. The parts of the story concerning the modern era and the couple seeking therapy was less well-defined I felt.
However, this is a wonderful addition to the oeuvre of South Asian writing.
From the supernatural, to the contemporary Indian ethnic prejudices, to true love; it is a journey that has the reader entranced till the very last page. Wonderful lyrical prose, characters that leave an imprint on your heart and mind and the weaving of an extraordinary tale are the hallmarks of Neelima’s work. The novella takes the reader on a trip to the mysterious and ancient heart of India that has fascinated the world from time immemorial. One can almost feel the presence of the Kamasutra in the erotically charged poetic rendition of this dark and passionate romance.
Neelima Vinod is definitely a name to watch.
Zeenat Mahal, author of Haveli and The Contract