July 26, 2020
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Pearl-White Bones

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Pearl-White Bones
The Tiger By The River
By Ravi Shankar Etteth
Viking Pages: 299; Rs 395
Early this year, I reviewed David Davidar’s House Of Blue Mangoes. He was a friend—till the review was published. Now he is anything but. Reviewing is a dangerous business in a country peopled only by literary geniuses. I approached Ravi Shankar Etteth’s novel with dread. Who wants to review himself into extinction? But The Tiger proved to be a good read.

Delhi-based Swati Varma, prince of a Kerala province, Panayur, returns home to carry out the rites of passage of his wife, killed in an accident. Swati meets his childhood friend, Antara. The plot thickens. Swati discovers he has a cousin, Vel, in America. That his grandfather was trapped in war-time Germany. That Swati has a son, Salim, by Antara. During the transactions of a mystical night, Swati is shot dead by Salim.

Ravi Shankar’s language is a curious mixture of a few original phrases couched in what I can describe only as period prose. At his best, the prose sings. A phrase like "a slim trail of ash like a farewell hieroglyphic" beautifully evokes the lingering finality of the death of Swati’s wife. Such phrases gleam like pearl-white bones, glittering under a mass of flab, tracing the contours of a shapely skeleton of thought. And despite the weakness for the florid, Ravi Shankar has that gleaming tiger firmly by the tail.

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