The novel “The Eminently Forgettable Life of Mrs Pankajam” by Meera Rajagopalan follows Mrs Pankajam, who has always lived two lives: a fulfilling one as a wife and mother, and the other one of desires that only her mind knows about.
When Mrs Pankajam starts losing her memory, her doctor recommends she keep a diary to maintain a semblance of continuity in life events.
This finely crafted novel challenges the readers to confront long-held beliefs and make amends while it is still possible, and is a witty and touching tale about a declining mind trying to make sense of an ever-changing world.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Saturday, 7 March 2015
There are parts of Pari’s house that I like. Mostly because I remember my way around them. The kitchen is large, wide open, with an island, which is where I like to sit. The front yard is pretty also, even if the plants have withered. I assume Siva used to take care of them. Pari tries very hard to remember to water them, to care for them, but I’ve learned the hard way that plants are not like kids; it’s not enough if you simply feed them.
Everyone assumes that people from the village know all about gardens and plants, but the truth is we only know about the crops that we grow. If that. When I came to Madras after the wedding, people used to ask me about their gardens.
‘How often I should water a rose plant?’ kind of questions. I had no idea. The first time I saw a rose plant was in the city anyway. Funnily, I’d never thought of our Nandhimangalam house as a house, the way I think of Pari’s, or even our Bella Vista apartment. When I came to Srini’s house after the wedding, I saw the rooms as rooms. It was really the first time I thought of a building as a home. Nandhimangalam, like Amma’s breasts, simply nurtured me, and I have no memory of how it looked.
One summer, we went on a temple trip, the one parents usually take when they realize their children are not like them; diagnosing a lack of culture and values, they embark on these trips, as if culture lay in temples and grandiose structures, and not in themselves. That summer, we mixed Gangaikonda Cholapuram with Chidambaram, eager to showcase the endurance of our culture, both architectural and religious. In the car, Srini and Sekar took turns telling the bored children the wonders of the temples and their uniqueness (‘Do you know the Chidambaram Deekshitars were appointed by Sivaperuman to take care of his worship?’). I said I wanted to visit my village and the brothers agreed. Renuka was fiddling in the bag to feed the children something.
The road that led from the main road to our village looked different. It had been so many years, too many to keep count. We entered the dusty road and then the village, even as bored middle-aged men stood around, peering into the car at the seemingly lost people.
I rolled down the windows to smell the village, to remember, and immediately, complaints ensued. Dirt. Heat. Smell. Everything I was, was a problem to the children. Somehow we located our old house, or what stood in place of it: a garish orange and green imposter. I walked up and down, over to where Ammini’s house once (and amazingly, still) was. Just as it had stood all those years ago, it waited for the girl of the house to return, only it was hollowed out, like an autopsied cadaver. The family, I knew, had left for Delhi, to be with her brother who had joined the army. I went closer, pushing my way through the underbrush typical of a dilapidated house. Creepers had claimed the walls, and plants and trees peeked out of windows and doors. Unmindful of the scratches and the stares I walked on through the front door, half expecting to see Ammini sitting by her favourite wall, waiting for me.
Instead, I saw more signs of decay – the bricks were visible in most places and the moss nearly tripped me up. ‘Ammini,’ I cried out several times, only stopping when I heard a sound behind me. I turned – had she heard me? Had she been waiting? Why did I take so long to return? – and saw Srini (or maybe it was Sekar). I fell to my knees, sobbing. I vowed never to visit the village again. She wasn’t here, but meet her I would, of this I was sure.
Excerpted with permission from The Eminently Forgettable Life of Mrs Pankajam, Meera Rajagopalan, Hachette India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.