‘So you have experienced all that you write about? The sex, you know…” Whenever Anita Nair runs into “an occasional curious and priapic being”, who comes on strong with such a query, her first instinct is to giggle, but then she deflects the pass with an, “Oh no, I just got it out of the pornography I like to read.” This is a bedside rumination, the kind of stuff she hedonistically indulges into after she pulls back the covers off the bed, plumps the pillow ever so gently and then arranges herself into a position of perfect languor. There are 42 of them, in all, all of them untitled. But, of course, you immediately spot the trend: fragrances, food, her husband B, children, her parents, the Booker, her son Maitreya, sex, her dog Sugar, (there’s the utterly delightful Sugar Dog Blog on him — but I think it needs to be updated, Sugar is five now, the blog says he’s three), bookshops and Schiphol’s airport hotel.
At first, I discovered, petulantly, too many allusions to literature — and litterateurs. The opening essay, for instance (on fragrances), felt a lot like Done Too Soon, with Neil Diamond strumming his guitar one Hot August Night: Jesus Christ, Fanny Brice/ Wolfie Mozart and Humphrey Bogart/ and Genghis Khan and/on to HG Wells. Nair drums up “Kalidasa, Shakespeare, Donne, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Zola, Hugo Colette right down to Tom Robbins…”
But then I realised how easily the ‘cf-s’ fell into place, and how they imbued so much zest into ‘Life, Literature and a Few Other Things, with Footnotes, Quotes and Other Such Literary Diversions’. It’s like this: when mails like “Get a real job, you bitch” pop up in her inbox (cf, her ‘bold’ works of fiction like Mistress, Ladies Coupé, The Better Man), Anita Nair ruminates on the kind of flak Lawrence and Nabokov drew when they wrote Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Lolita.
The essays are little gems: funny, razor-sharp, poignant, thoughtful (and short). The prose is sparkling — and very, very warm, like a snug cover that you nestle into at night while it rains gently outside. Of her bedtime ritual, Nair says that she likes a warm, milky drink (even as her son demands to know: “Why do you need to drink milk?”), it’s the penultimate act which ushers in sleep. “Between that first sip and last, I dwell on this and that. Every night there is something to ruminate on. The vagrant mind knows no boundaries. It leaps…”
So, on parents, she quotes the otherwise mild-mannered Philip Larkin, “They f**k you up, your mum and dad”, and then she says about her dad: “I pause to touch his sole… the skin around the heel has hardened and I see age there in every crack and line. I feel a huge lump grow in my throat and expand into my chest.” And about her mum: “When the meat burns just before a dinner party, or B falls ill, or I smart from a real or imaginary hurt, or I need to make an important career decision, is it her I call.” Her mother, she adds, is far more bothered about the grey in her (Anita’s) hair than the sexual passages in her books. “Sex is natural; what isn’t are the streaks of grey in her daughter’s locks while hers remain defiantly black...”
Then, of course, there’s the Booker. Nair first sets the record straight: it’s not just the Booker, she’s not won a single prize so far. She goes on to recreate a Booker-induced social scenario. “Pools of light... Pineapple and cheese on toothpicks; the clink of crystal; Verdi or is it L. Subramaniam in the air… and the conversation spiked with international trivia. Suddenly someone, perhaps the hostess in her flowing organdie salwar-kurta and glittering nails, brings up the Booker in the tones of one who has well rehearsed the subject. And I can’t remember a thing about it, except that Naipaul won it. Or did he now?”
Sour grapes? Maybe, maybe not. But brilliant.
Goodnight Anita, I thought to myself, as I plumped the pillow ever so gently, the night I finished Goodnight and God Bless. And good luck.