“I could also feel a smile slowly appearing on my lips, and an immense feeling of well-being suffusing my entire being- a contentment that comes from having read a good story, beautifully told,” writes Santosh Bakaya.
It was with a wide smile on my face that I closed Nadira Cotticollan’s The Winnowing Waves, having effortlessly become a part of the vicissitudes in the lives of the characters. In this absolutely riveting novel, many parallel stories run side by side, going up and down like winnowing waves, seamlessly merging into the basic plot, eventually.
In the small coastal town of Malabar, Kerala, replete with palm trees, briny breeze, feisty waves and valiant fishermen, we come across Fouziya, Aminu and Nabesa, whose lives are intricately woven together. The very beautiful Nabeesa, who is ‘the gentlest soul in the entire household’, Aminu, who is at least eight years older to Fouziya, the youngest at nine years of age, share an easy camaraderie, beyond the disparities in age. With skilled writing, Cotticollan brings them to life, so much so, that you laugh and cry with them, almost on tenterhooks to know what the future has in store for them.
As you turn over the pages of this intriguing read, you begin to love these flesh and blood characters, living and breathing with them, even conniving at their shortcomings, and gasping and shedding tears at the tragedies that befall them. Besides, Nabeesa and Yusuf, Aminu and Rashid, Fouzyia and her enlightened, well- read, idealistic husband, Nabeel, who is always seething at the ‘quagmire of regressiveness’, and for whom, Fouziya feels an ‘excruciating tenderness’, there are many minor characters very skillfully woven into the story – Kadijumma, Abdurrahiman, Jameela, Pooja, Madan, Pyaari and Anita who slowly creep into the reader’s life too.
Cotticollan has a very keen eye for detail, coupled with a sense of humor, reflected in many places. In one of the passages, she refers to a cantankerous middle- aged woman, ‘whose expletives rendered in a shrieky, loud voice would drown out the others… she would go inside and come back with an aluminum plate and wooden ladle and begin to beat on it. The row generally died down after that finale.” P 10
This reminded me of an almost every day occurrence in my hometown, Srinagar, Kashmir, when the boatmen in the boats down below in the Jhelum, fronting our house, would have raucous fights, seemingly endless. As a symbolic gesture of a temporary truce, they would upturn a cane basket for the night, indicating that the bickering would begin anew the next day. [In Kashmiri, they called this Fatis Tal -under the basket]
All good- humored, then.
Kunhaminitha, an old woman, is a character who fascinated me no end, so much so, I almost imagined her in her full glory on celluloid. She drinks tea with loud slurping sounds, and her habit of chewing paan is well- known.
“Slowly, she chewed it all into a red pulp, savoring the indulgence on her taste buds. Then she sent flying out into the courtyard a long stream of red spittle, through the gap between her forefinger and middle finger placed like a V over her lips.”P188
Then there are Anita and Pyari, weaving their own tales, in a village in the north, amidst the loo winds and mustard fields, and their paths are destined to cross the paths of Nabeesa, Aminu and Fouzyia.
The descriptions of nature have been exquisitely penned, that at times, I could almost feel the swaying of the palm fronds on my face and the waves tickling my toes. I almost squirmed with unease as the ants crawled all over Fouziya, in one of the interesting scenes, which intrigued me no end.
Emulating a woman in a painting, who is sitting on the ground, reading a book, while her skirts billow around her, the spunky Fouziya goes into the woods to mimic the lady in the painting, and starts reading a book. Immediately ants crawl all over her, and she rushes home, to find herself at the receiving end of many barbs. It is only later that she comes to know that the painting that had her so enchanted, was a famous painting of Claude Monet. This was a scene which stayed with me, and I kept going back to it off and on.
In the concluding chapter, in a letter to Fouziya, Aminu writes, “Grief no longer hangs in the evening air, and there is a lightness that I cannot explain. You’ll experience it when you come here.”p 363.
With a smile playing on her lips, Fouziya closed her eyes, feeling the salty spray of the waves on her cheeks. ‘She was a child again’.p 364.
With this concluding line, I could also feel a smile slowly appearing on my lips, and an immense feeling of well-being suffusing my entire being- a contentment that comes from having read a good story, beautifully told. This is indeed a highly recommended book for all bibliophiles. A must read.
Dr Santosh Bakaya hails from Kashmir and lives in Jaipur. She is an academician, poet, essayist, novelist, and Tedx speaker with more than ten published books. Her poetic biography of Mahatma Gandhi, Ballad of Bapu, has been internationally acclaimed and she has been published worldwide.
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I enjoyed my ride on The Winnowing Waves too. It is difficult to believe that it is the work of a debut novelist, but I understand that this is Nadira Cotticollan’s very first work of fiction. What depths and vastness the waves hide in their frothing, silly games with the shores!! I’m disappointed that the WW has not yet made a big splash. Even a full fledged review of TWW is yet to come out. Dr Bakaya’s is just an appetizer. Yes, she puts it succinctly when she mentions that smile spreading from ear to ear and the sense of contentment that a reader feels when the last page is turned. I recall it too, reading the review.