IN this poignant and thought-provoking novel the protagonist is Simon Jesukumar, an ageing widower, who aspires to do something worthwhile with what remains of his circumscribed, frustratingly blameless, cocooned middle-class life. His late wife Harini was a steadfast woman with a voracious sexual appetite and who controlled his life. When alive, she leaves behind a manuscript which she has painstakingly written and he tries to get it published in Delhi. His daughter Sandhya advises him to destroy the manuscript because it’s a story that mustn’t be told.
Simon’s own story is that even as a boy, he is given arguing in vain with his family for providing aid to the bereaved family of two young girls who drowned off the Thiruvanmiyur beach.
Simon lives in the Vaibhav Apartments but his aspirations are stirred by his nagging guilt about the slum next door, named ‘Sitara’. The slum is described as stinking filth surrounded by mosquitoes and unhealthy air which define the characteristics of all of them. The well-off residents of Vaibhav Apartments use the inhabitants of ‘Sitara’ for performing menial jobs for them but ignore their real needs. They want the slum to be removed. He fights with the residents of his housing complex for he feels the slum-dwellers have a right to live. “The poor will not go away. There are too many of them. Looking for work, for food, for a place to live, a place to shit. And what do people like you, the Vaibhav people say? ‘Stop dirtying our neighbourhood.’ You will soon be making the government to throw us out of here. Why? A Right to Shit card. That’s what we need. The Right to Live…”
(Penguin/Viking Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi-110 017.)