Sheila Kumar has been a journalist for twenty years. Along the way, she has done numerous stories on the ecology, environment, travel, profiles, food and opinion pieces, and the occasional political piece. Based in Bangalore, her life was going on at a hectic pace, when, suddenly, one day, the image of Ammini Amma, a matriarch of the Melekat (Nair) family in South Malabar arose in her mind. Soon, others characters appeared, including Ammini’s siblings and descendants.
‘‘There were years of ‘No book’ and suddenly, there it was, a book inside my head,” says Sheila. “So it was imperative that I write these stories down and hopefully see them in print.”
So, for the next seven months, Sheila wrote the 19 stories that comprise the book, ‘Kith and Kin’. “It was written in fits and starts, amidst the hurly-burly of everyday life,” says Sheila. “And no, it is not autobiographical at all.”
Asked whether it traces the decline of the Nairs, Sheila says, “Yes, to some extent, the Melekats are well past their glory days, but they stubbornly cling to a feudal mindset, despite changing times. The family is still well-off, but the power attached to the name has waned. The older generation still basks in the feeble warmth of that light, while the younger generation, though almost all of them have an inordinate pride in their lineage, are going about their business.”
And there are other aspects that Sheila looks at. “It casts a sympathetic glance at the twin hells of old age and ill health, graying Malayalis, mental illness, love, loss, betrayal, and all the other emotions that life comprises of. There is even a ghost who has come to terms with the fact that she was murdered.”
There is also a wannabe journalist in search of the perfect story, a girl in search of a husband, and a woman in search of a reason any reason to leave her husband. ‘Kith and Kin’ will be released by noted director Renjith Panicker, on Saturday, November 17 at Lotus Club, Kochi.
TV journalist Elizabeth Thomas will hold a question and answer session with the author. This will be followed by a reading of excerpts from one of the stories by business woman Rema Tharakan which will be followed by a book-signing session.