Culture & Society

Book Review: Where Mayfiles Live Forever

The opening line prepares the plot for the entire book. Who was she? Sriveni, who was once, recognized by her beautifully thick black plait, who was a helping hand to her midwife grandma, a distant companion to her twin brothers and a sensitive child who could connect with nature to her father.

A heartfelt amalgamation of women and their stories...
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Publisher: Picador India
Pages: 240
Price: Rs.599


The author of Twenty Odd Love Poems (2008) and numerous short stories which have appeared in print magazines and journals, Anupama Mohan inaugurates her arrival into the world of novels with her debut Where Mayflies Live Forever, a tale of deep-rooted divisions that run in our society and how women (un)live with them. But this is neither an ordinary story of how women are being oppressed nor a vengeful account of women’s vendetta in the face of suppression. Rather, it is a heartfelt amalgamation of both.

“What can I say that might even scratch the surface of who she was?”

The opening line prepares the plot for the entire book. Who was she? Sriveni, who was once, recognized by her beautifully thick black plait, who was a helping hand to her midwife grandma, a distant companion to her twin brothers and a sensitive child who could connect with nature to her father. The book swiftly moves forward with a first-person account of various people Sriveni shared her life with as the police searched for her. Every person reflects upon their own lives, and the impact she left over them, while accounting for Veni, as they call her out of love. Veni appears throughout the book just like the dew mist that appears after it rains, which can only be experienced if one feels strongly, maybe settled over the tiny leaves of tilted trees or as drops running down from glass windows. But who was Veni for herself?

“But was she more than the sum total of these parts? What is a woman when she is not a daughter, sister, wife, mother? What was she beyond a teacher, companion, colleague?”

Leaving everyone behind, Veni embarks on a journey to recover and re-discover herself. And this journey of hers marks for the readers the confluence of ecology and criminology, meeting at the doline of self-reflection and healing.

 

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Book cover of Where Mayflies Live Forever

Nature, Nurture and Nuisance

There were a few beautifully drawn artistic parallels that the author very lucidly brings about. First, Veni was born in the cradle of nature and eventually as it came out, she was reborn in the same. She spent her childhood listening to the murmurings of the soil in the company of mayflies. Second, from a very young age, Veni learns the art of nurture, helping her midwives mother and grandmother to take care of pregnant women and as it came out, she saves herself too.

“Veni is no stranger to pain –young women go through teeth-shattering pain during pregnancy....did it come to her aid on that savage night – who can say. But they say she hung in there despite the savagery of the attack, they say she gritted so hard that her molars crumbled but the piece of the shirt she wrenched and by which one of the men was later identified remained inside her mouth, they say that although she was battered and kicked and flung around, she protected her spine somehow. They say she took blows to her head and she lost a lot of blood but she dragged herself to dry land and lay there for help, avoiding the oil mill’s garbage heap where they left her and they staved off infection and sepsis.”

Another thread which kept the story wired was the nuisance; consequent of the class divide and power imbalance that exists in the society, and the general apathy and hostility that women have to go through in their daily lives. The rich had control over people, the police and the place. Annathe was the rich villain here and his servant gives his the most authentic description, “Anna was such a big man, he was virtually untouchable. He got us the best lawyer who told us what to say when-who to and anyway, we all know this, money talks in our society”. Veni was the prey of the wrath of one such. Not only what he did to her was beyond horrific but she was even failed by the justice system. Later, it was the same justice system which was working in full force when the tables were turned. But Veni was nowhere to be found then, nor did the skull of her perpetrator, Annathe.

The trauma that Veni had to undergo was nerve-wracking: “Do you know what it feels like to have your vagina split open? With fingers and whole fists and penises?” groans her friend while the police interrogates her, “Why is she missing? How many of us must go missing before you all notice?”

Her father’s rhetorical tone also adds to the reader’s sensation of the anguish women have to undergo, “necessary training for survival, you know. Like we send boys to the army to make them men, we should send young girls to camps where they learn how to prevent being raped and, if raped and left to die, how to get up, clean off, stitch themselves together, and become normal again. You can wipe that look off your face”.

The gruesome account of the unfortunate night resonates with real live accounts of women undergoing such horrors in the name of revenge and hate in books like Our Bodies, Their Battlefield by Christina Lamb and Birangona 1971: Saga of the Violated Women by Muntassir Mamoon and the aftermath trauma depicted by movies like Luckiest Girl Alive directed by Mike Barker and Devi directed by Priyanka Banerjee. Nonetheless, Where Mayflies Live Forever, is not only a story or an account, it provides a chilling reckoning. This novel is a mirror which we often ignore to see. The author pushes this over our faces and we should dare see it.

(Anjali Chauhan, a PhD scholar in Political Science, University of Delhi with keen interest in women, labour and state politics.)

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