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Tuesday, Oct 19, 2021
Outlook.com

Paynestaking Effort

In the best traditions of Cold Comfort Farm but without the humour of the classic parody.

Paynestaking Effort
Paynestaking Effort
outlookindia.com
-0001-11-30T00:00:00+05:53
IT begins ominously. What kind of writer would close a two-page list of acknowledgments with "Thank you very much," and then append a coy "Dhanyavad"? And Payne delivers, in good measure. Her story of tourists in a guest house in Varanasi provides a close-up of burning corpses and references galore to "Lakshmi...mother of all the world" and "Kali, the fierce and bloody consort of Shiva".

A maharajah pops up, Hindu-Muslim conflicts provide a backdrop of simmering tension, astrology gurus and massage men lend local colour. The tourists at the Saraswati guesthouse meander through absurd Hindi-English dictionaries, survive flies, heat and curfew, and Shiva's "dance of death and birth" open and close the book.

But Payne's employment of every cliché in the book is deliberate; she signals as much by introducing an extraordinary character in Madame Natraja (sic), nee Estelle, the guest house proprietor and well-known tourist attraction. Natraja looms large over the book; she's a mountain of a woman, the ultimate consumerist American fantasy...

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