July 15, 2020
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Holy Ghosts !

Razor sharp, delightful read

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Holy Ghosts !
The Reflections Of A Hen In Her Last Hour
By Paul Zacharia
Penguin Rs : 200
PAUL Zacharia's a Christian writer. But it's not the sermonising that goes things Christian that marks out hiswith work. Rather, he taunts Christianity, specially the Syrian Christian variety that's Kerala's most affluent segment. Daring it to get back at him, sniping at its guiding principles, pulling aside the well-worn cassocks to lay bare slightly putrid innards.

Brave thing to do. But only those with his clawing sarcasm and disarming humour can make such forays. Zacharia's a master of the short story. Reflections of a Hen, his second collection to appear in English, is like his first, Bhaskara Pattelar , a significant addition to modern Indian literature.

The story A Day's Work is possibly the best portrait ever of a Kerala Syrian Christian. It is a letter written by a rich diasporic Kerala Christian to a nurse who's applied for a job to look after his old mother. Korah Philip John, like all good Christians, is quite fond of his mother, but doesn't have the time to be with her. Yet, scrupulously conscienti- ous, he tells the nurse what she's expected to do every minute. "9.49 am. Tie the napkin round her neck. Take out her dentures, wash them in clean water, put them back in her mouth. Wash her left hand in the finger bowl, place her hand on the table..."

Korah John is the archetypal Kerala Chris tian. Portraying him in a short story shows the writer's power of observation; making a meal of him, his mastery. In the other Christian stories about the eternal conflict between good and evil, Zacharia continues to pull aside veils with glee.

A Complaint about the Public Library at Yesupuram is a hilarious epistolary story, but the decay of institutions it speaks of is so true, one cannot laugh without discomfort. Zachariah sees life from angles that lesser mortals cannot. That's why he sees deeper truths in the agony of the hen who gives herself up to the waiting jackal with the plea, "Here I am, coming down. Please support and hold me." And like the trusting hen, we're almost convinced, that the jackal will support and hold her!

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