First Proof 5
Rs 250 pp 218
Ever seen a heartbeat graph with its spikes and troughs? That’s what the fifth installment of Penguin’s annual anthology First Proof pretty much reads like. A splendid piece is followed by a misfire, the cycle continuing till the end.
Bishakha Datta shoots the line high with her nonchalant, non-fiction narrative, ‘The Many Lives of Roma D’ about the difficulty — or not — of being a housewife-cum-prostitute. Roma switches between her personal and ‘professional’ lives, finding comfort in ‘role-playing’ as an activist and a bahu. Samanth Subramaniam’s ‘Hunting the Sailfish’ and ‘Kidnapped’ by Krupakar and Senani are among the rather plain memoirs in the collection.
The ‘fiction’ section starts with K.V. Meera’s ‘Ave Maria’, a crude and complex tale written in an impressive style that deals with Left politics in Kerala. ‘The Brass Tumbler’ by Sheela Indra and ‘The Dining Table’ by Girish Khera are both fond remembrances of things past triggered by inanimate objects, falling between the intended Proustian territory and that of a school essay (remember writing ‘Autobiography of a pen’?).
Nirupama Dutt’s ‘The Last Supper in Delhi’ makes for a chuckling read with the author painting a glamorous picture of the capital’s art circles complete with chiffon sarees, wine and cheese evenings and muah-muahs.
The book ends with the ‘poetry’ section. Manash Bhattacharya’s ‘When You Tell Me’ (“Don’t wear your plainest dress/When you tell me you don’t love me”) yearn to be strung as lyrics to songs. Radha Sinha’s six-lined ‘Today’ ends abruptly: “Today I want them to say/ She lives in Delhi with her husband and son.” Is there layered haiku-style meanings underlying those lines, or am I just sedated?