Writers have their constituencies. The constituency of A Hundred Little Flames is so strong no review may matter. Let me begin with the positives. This book attempts to tell a mature story. Its sweep is almost too broad to fit into one novel. The location of imaginary Poongavanam in Kerala brings rural India into focus which is a departure in popular fiction.
“The moonlight streamed in. It looked like a scene straight out of a fantasy movie—the paddy fields luminous, swaying gently, reflecting the moonlight. Ayan could imagine a werewolf howling.”
Though probably not authentic enough, such assay at providing local flavour is appreciable.
Of particular note is the game played by Ayan and his friend Dhiraj where they quote dialogues from Hollywood movies. When love interest Shivani takes it up, the ease of friendship transfers to her too. The device of using journal entries to further the narrative is clever when not overdone.
Ayan loses his job and his livid father relocates him to his grandfather Gopal Shanker’s ancestral home. That thekke madom is valuable on the market and coveted by the businessman son Jairaj. By wily means he admits the ageing patriarch into a seedy asylum. Ayan duly rescues him. He also chances on the grandfather’s diaries and pieces together the grand love story that is central to this narrative. In the end he uses the internet to track down the lady and reunite these ancient lovers. What does fate have in store for them?
“I got a letter from my Rohini. 33 years! And she decides to write to me now. I am dumbfounded. Excited. Happy. Sad. Elated. Angry.” It is difficult to ignore the fact that her husband’s proximity to another woman deepened Padmaja’s depression and led to her suicide. Against this backdrop the Rohini romance feels a tad self-indulgent.
“I felt sad to part from her. She looked sad too.… I should be content that I got at least this much time with her. Yet, the heart longs for more. Be still my beating heart—be still.”
Literature is replete with unsuitable lovers across all age groups. It is in the telling. And the telling here falters. For a wordy novel there is a lack of focus on the essentials. The feeling lingers that we are reading an early draft.
Still, this is an admirable departure from bubble-gum love stories and for that this book must be lauded. As a nation we are turning ageist and to have an ageing couple who have loved and held on to their love through a lifetime is a story of hope and inclusion. For that, this is a book to read and celebrate.