Zero Degree Review in Tehelka

                                    Style As Substance –  Kala Krishnan Ramesh 

CHARU NIVEDITA’S Zero Degree is difficult in the most interesting way: it appears to be teasing, confusing, pretending, mimicking, and sometimes even misleading, till you see the audacious design that makes this book one of the most interesting deliberations on the business of writing. The writer leaves clues hinting that this story is about literature and how the author relates to material: “There’s been a mistake. The chapters have become shuffled. I might have had some ulterior motive. Perhaps my hatred for Muniyandi and my love for Misra are responsible; perhaps I’ve subconsciously moved Misra ahead and shoved Muniyandi to the background”; “To understand my writing, forget my life. My life is separate and my writing is separate”; “Is this really a novel, or merely a bunch of notes thrown together into a book?”

The writing in Zero Degree appears to be asserting that even in a post-structuralist world, where aesthetic and formal parameters are elastic, style, form and content can still be shocking. Its subject matter is not unfamiliar, neither are its many styles or its use of language, but when it comes together, the reader is both surprised and shocked. Zero Degree insists on the importance of style even where it is an admission of dishonourable intentions.

Zero Degree’s “mad patchwork” takes the reader on a wildly curving, frequently detouring story made of phone sex, torture, love poetry, numerology, mythology, and what appears to be a decidedly Latin American thoughtscape, and interestingly, in this journey, the reader is both guided traveler and adventurer.

The book is a virtuoso performance by a writer doing voices he loves and hates, including Latin American, Sangam Tamil, meta-textual, magazinese, establishment Tamil, etc. While he dons these many hats, in a postmodernist gesture he also lets us know that he is enchanted and not ‘influenced’ by any of them, by ostentatiously annotating each hat-wearing moment.

The author’s audacity — about content, form and language — is totally charming; the fact that in ‘real’ life, he appears to be as unpredictable, as difficult to locate in a hierarchy of Tamil writers, and is bathed in a glow of speculation, controversy and love-hate makes it all the more intriguing.

The translation by Pritham K Chakravarthy and Rakesh Khanna transcreates what one imagines to be the sting and slap and sharp tenderness of the original, without letting go of the necessary quantity of non-Tamilness. Malavika PC’s cover captures a sense of the intricate madness of the journey inside.

Zero Degree is, without doubt, an unusual experience in reading; unlike most books, it challenges — and inspires — the reader to create a structure from the apparent mayhem of form and content. Or, in the author’s words, “Please, go ahead and search for meaning in the host of words scattered in these pages.”

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 50, Dated Dec 20, 2008