Gripping drama, satire and 'Kerala neuroses' - these are the main ingredients of poet-turned-novelist C.P. Surendran's latest book Lost and Found.
Set in Mumbai, the novel tells the story of Lakshmi, an online writer, who kidnaps a journalist named Placid Hari after a drunken party because she believes he had raped her 16 years ago. But Placid Hari turns out to be the wrong guy. The day after the abduction, Lakshmi and Hari, both Malayalee migrants from Kerala, are taken hostage by some terrorists during a siege. The unfolding drama of terror alters the course of their life.
"The book is about a self-important, faintly alcoholic journalist fleeing the Kerala insecurities. He is running away from the maternal neurosis inherited from his mother's side, a circumscribed existence that is the Kerala way of living. It is a comical critique of the society we live in," Surendran told IANS in an interview.
Published by Harper-Collins India, Surendran's second novel was released here on Wednesday.
His first book, An Iron Harvest, a tale of Naxalism in Kerala, was published in 2006. His collections of poetry include Gemini II, Posthumous Poems, Canaries on the Moon and Portraits of the Space We Occupy.
Surendran describes Kerala as "the cartoon land of communism".
"Fully-grown Keralites talk Marx, Mao, Lenin and Stalin as if the august personalities had just got up and left their favourite parlour chairs for a walk. And fantastically enough, the imprint of their posteriors was hot and clear on the cushions for the believers to see and marvel at - and perhaps to inhale - as part of an exercise in nostalgia - the vinegar vapours of revolution," he said.
"To flee from the fictive place, (my hero) Placid rode that train like a rodeo for 51 hours, detour in universal chaos (out of Kerala)," Surendran said, quoting from his book.
Hari does not "want to be ensnared by the parochialism of thought".
"Placid Hari has this misplaced idea that he is a writer. He comes to Mumbai to prove himself as a journalist. But there is a sense of failure in him that Hari tries to compensate by being the self-appointed crusader of the low life in Bombay. It blinds him to other things - he becomes insensitive," Surendran said, using his protagonist as a metaphor to explore the psyche behind the unchecked migration from his native state.
According to Surendran, Kerala neuroses - "the syndrome of running away from the parochialism of thoughts and circumscribed existance" - is found "in Uttar Pradesh, one of the most brutal states, Madhya Pradesh and generally across India".
The title of the book, Lost and Found has a sociological import, Surendran said.
"The story is about the lost and found motif in our lives. Indians lose hell of a lot, but they find what they have lost. Most often they find something else but an inadequate substitute. There is a consistent leitmotif in Hindi movies of separation - children, son, mother brothers. The streak comes from a certain rooted reality of the 1.5 million people who were separated during partition. The matches (matching identities), identification of lockets, the constant recovery of lost things much later in life is also a strong current in Indian cinema," Surendran said.
So what are the reasons behind the spurt in English writing in Kerala in the last decade?
"Desperation of the people who live in Kerala to flee the indigenous neuroses has prompted the growth in English writing in the state. They escape through the language.
"I see language as a means of running away from oneself and taking refuge. Most of the new writers cannot express themselves in Malayalam because it exposes them," Surendran said.
But English was a more open language, exposed to all kinds of madness in the world, the writer observed.