Zero Degree Review in The New Indian Express

                                         The Falling Cliffs – by Asha S Menon

This book can be compared to a scream. A good, full-throated one for which you would ordinarily need the falling cliffs. And to say that Zero Degree cannot be brought home would be, ironically, a compliment to the author Charu Nivedita and its translators Pritham K Chakravarthy and Rakesh Khanna.

Charu writes about politics within the family, more accurately sexual politics within the family. Since he has done a good job of revealing the uncertainty and violence within families and contemporary personal relationships, it would indeed be a bad idea to bring it home. But for all those feel stifled within a family and a meaningless routine, please read it on your way to work.

Hide it in the deep recesses of your clothes cupboard or in the general chaos of your office desk, if you will, but read it. You should read it for the thoughts that ordinarily get edited out or words that get buried in symbols.

Zero Degree falls within the genre of trangressive fiction, in which authors try to break out of their societal confines by discussing taboo subjects. Anne Soukhanov, in The Atlantic Monthly (1996) described it as “A literary genre that graphically explores such topics as incest and other aberrant sexual practices, mutilation, the sprouting of sexual organs in various places on the human body, urban violence and violence against women, drug use, and highly dysfunctional family relationships, and that is based on the premise that knowledge is to be found at the edge of experience and that the body is the site for gaining knowledge.” Other popular authors in this genre could be Chuck Palanhiuk and Charles Bukowski.

Charu’s book, written originally in Tamil a decade ago, follows no linear narrative and the protagonist of the book is the insanity that confronts you every day. The narrative is so chaotic that it is a relief. And occasionally there is humour.

The first chapter is one of my favourites for its keen observations, pathos and good-humoured acceptance. In it the author addresses his readers, both ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’. There are chapters that layer personal battles with larger political ones; the sudden change in perspective can give you vertigo. There is a chapter that is a questionnaire, which includes subversive questions that ridicule the author, critics and readers, and then it asks you questions that serve no logical purpose.

There are letters and phone conversations and pages that imitate palm-leaf manuscripts. There are chapters and sentences the author refuses to complete. There is a poem on the primordial and powerful Shakthi who was forced to give away her powers to three men. After using her powers of creation, protection and destruction, they return tired and ask her … Well, I shall leave the sentence hanging too.

Occasionally the author drops names of Latin American writers and high-brow philosophers. Perhaps it is to assure the reader that he is not being taken for a ride. That the well-read, literate author is taking the reader on a well-planned tour. Zero Degree takes you apart and allows you to rearrange yourself as you please.

Courtesy : The New Ind press July 27, 2008