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  Books   23 Mar 2024  Book Review | An old woman’s odd quest to find her co-wives

Book Review | An old woman’s odd quest to find her co-wives

Published : Mar 23, 2024, 1:44 pm IST
Updated : Mar 23, 2024, 1:44 pm IST

Antony’s prose is so lyrical that it can be set to music

Cover image of Can't
 Cover image of Can't

When you read books by some writers, you sit back in your seat and relax and prepare yourself for a wonderful journey. That’s because you know you will be in extremely safe hands. I did just that when I picked up my review copy of Can’t by Shinie Antony.

The book starts with Tata, a 17-year-old boy, who has dropped out of college, returning home. Brought up in a poverty-stricken home, with an abusive father who hits his mother, Tata is an only child. “Silence is my first language, my mother tongue. I don’t trust word — words take sides.” That is Tata introducing himself to readers. Tata is angular and insomniac, he calls himself an owl of skin and bones and carries with him his own stink which is “like self-contained sewage”. Antony’s writing is peppered with such gems.

Nena, the only madwoman in their town, takes Tata and his rat-nibbled mother with a hairdo resembling “a frizzy tornado that rises up from her scalp”, under her wing, after Tata’s father’s demise. The town is unnamed but the characters have names. Nena is as unique as her name, an eccentric old lady suffering from a strange malady aquagenic urticaria, a condition that prevents her from hydrating. She can neither drink water nor bathe in it, making do with water capsules to quench her thirst. She also uses a mixture of herbs and grains for her daily ablutions. Tata is carted off to Nena’s house as, according to his mother, Nena would know what useful things this run-away-from-college boy can do with his time.

Nena is notorious for constantly mentioning her husband’s infidelity and innumerable affairs. She thinks of infidelity as a joke between a wife and the other woman in a man’s life. Nena comes from a privileged background, was married off to a much older man who actually wed her for the property, wealth and jewels she would bring in dowry.

Nena is in her seventies when Tata accompanies her on a mission to hunt down all her husband’s lovers and find out if there is a child somewhere with her husband’s blood in his/her veins and his genes in their DNA.

Though completely crazy and a wee bit wild, Nena gets the readers rooting for her. This woman considers herself a pessimist on the outside, but inside she always has her lights on. She is an enigma that Tata cannot understand. He is unable to figure her out, as will the readers. Though Nena comes from a family where her parents just can’t keep their hands off each other, she inherits the “can’t” like a much-cherished family heirloom. She just ‘can’t’ do certain things. She reveals that to Tata in one of her mellow moods. I am not going to give away any spoilers, one will have to read the book to find out what that “can’t” is.

Antony’s prose is so lyrical that it can be set to music. Her words take a life of their own, jumping off page after page into the reader’s mind and squatting there like determined trespassers who have no inclination to leave unless and until they have extracted their pound of flesh by piquing the reader’s interest to know the end of the story.

Rachna Chhabria is a Bengaluru based children’s author and a freelance writer



Shinie Antony

Speaking Tiger

pp. 160; Rs 350


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