Saturday, February 09, 2013

Maid in Singapore by Kishore Modak: Impressions

Despite telling a complex grey tale, Kishore Modak's is one of the coldest voices I've ever read. A lot happens in the 239 pages of this short novel, yet the author remains impassive, failing to draw the reader in. It's more like reading a newspaper than a novel with no emotions evoked, and no connect made. I read the book in a day; not exactly sucked into the vortex of the tale, but like a rooted bystander observing its morbid goings on.

But 'Maid in Singapore' has a plot that one will not forget in a hurry. Kishore Modak writes about a modern nuclear family with an Indian wife Rashmi, a British husband, David, and their adolescent son of mixed ethnicity, Jay. When they are forced to move from London to Singapore, their life takes an unexpected turn. The presence of their new Filipino maid, Mary, triggers off a chain of events stemming from infidelity. The lead up is rather complex but it will be safe to mention that the plot has a lot of meat in it involving kinky sex, bastard children, cancer, homosexuality and even a gender change operation thrown in for good measure.

The story is apparently based on true events (gulp), and it chills one to think this is more than fiction. Like I've mentioned above, despite the intrigue of the plot, Modak's style of writing is strangely sterile. It is difficult to put a finger on what exactly is lacking in the style, but it's somehow clinical. Despite the shame, anger, blame, resignation and acceptance the protagonists go through, they fail to touch you. Here you're reading about a  man-wife relationship gone bad, a terminal illness, even sexual deviations, but you never once feel anything on the left side of your chest, or the corner of your eye.

And then there are times, when the author gets into a philosophical mood and leaves you with a mouthful of words and little else. Sample these lines:

Time, it simply moves away from us, leaving us in a rut of petty, personal tangles, forcing us to look down, down where there is nothing but the mundane to toy with, while on top things move steadily away on the waves of time, reaching the horizon before moving out of sight, forever, never once waiting for us to look up. 


Isn't marriage supposed to enliven our sexual fantasies, keeping us physically contented in its holy circle, nuptial gravity ensuring that we don't waver outwards, tangentially away from the circumference into the realm of infidelity?

You feel like slapping the editor at these points, but then the next murky turn distracts you. So, Maid in Singapore is a twisty story of human frailties - convincing, well-told even, but one with no heart in it.



Nikhil said...

Now in a dilemma, should i or shouldn't i go for this book. And, well, it may just be the latter. But then i'm an impulsive buyer of books so don't know.

Urmi Chanda Vaz said...

All I'll say is, if I had to buy this book with my money, I wouldn't. A review copy is another matter. :P