A college bubbling with youth energy, a killer on the loose, goons and wierdos creating ripples and a handsome hunk to take on all of them. Madras Mangler has the perfect formula for drawing readers to it. A bit of romance, abuse against women, old fashioned prejudices, trouble making college boys, swashbuckling heroes, and oh yes, a serial killer on the loose who targets women and leaves a signature on his crime site. Usha Narayanan takes you through a complex maze of heart stopping twists and turns in this fast paced action thriller, and keeps you on the edge of your seat right until the last page.
Published by Leadstart, Madras Mangler marks Usha’s debut on the Indian fiction scene, and I must say, it is quite a worthy debut.
The Madras Mangler by Usha Narayanan
Kat, Minx, Moti, Lolita and Deepika, are second year students of SS Padmaja college. They each have a back story, a past they are trying to move away from, or a future they are seeking so desperately. For one it is the ignominy of being an illegitimate child, for other suppression in the name of patriarchal tyranny. One wants to make something more meaningful out of her life than just being an obedient ‘bahu’ and ‘patni’, while the other wants to give wings to her creative dreams. These girls come together in a close knit friendship, a bond that helps them fight away junkies and goons alike, and in each other’s company they find understanding and solace. But life takes a turn for worse when they find that a psychopath is on the loose, killing college girls and dumping them in the cooum river (which is already fouled to tipping point). They fear they might be next, for the killer seems to be picking girls at random, for no apparent reason. Their fears come true when one of them becomes an unwitting victim, and another is taken away by the killer. The girls have Vir and Bishnu at their side, handsome intelligence officers working feverishly to nab the killer, their efforts thwarted every time by the bumbling baboon of a Police Commisioner, Reddy. Vir has the hots for Kats, the the lead character among the 5 girls, because of whom Vir helps the girls in a number of situations. How Vir, Bishnu, Kats and her friends manage to tackle all those who impede their freedom, including the killer and come out victorious forms the core of this story.
For starters, I must really commend Usha for not bringing in the usual stereotype of a chennai girl being Pavadai davani clad, hair braided and a string of jasmine hanging from it, looking coy and divine in a sticker bindi on her forehead and jimikki on her ears. The girls in MM are suave, modern, and daring to question stereotypes. However, the other stereotype is still present – that of the lungi clad goon and his equally shabby sidekicks. Although I agree that such goons are very much present around Chennai, maybe it would have been interesting to be able to picture them in a different way? Just a thought. I was also disappointed by the cliched portrayals of the college junkies Asuras, Shaitan, the Principal and Reddy. It is after all a college teeming with boys and girls. Was there not even one boy or girl (apart from the leading 5) who could stand up to the baddies whenever the Asuras taunted Minx or Moti or blackmailed Lolita? I found that a tad hard to believe.
Madras Mangler’s plot winds through numerous locations and interesting situations, keeping the pace of the story fast. The language is crisp and refreshing and quite in tune with the lingo of the present generation. This makes the book entertaining and engaging. Almost all the thrillers and mysteries I have read till now have been set in foreign locations, so reading one set in our own backyard was quite refreshing for a change. The book reminded me of crime novels by Sujata, that prolific Tamil author who created numerous adrenaline rushing thrillers for the Tamil audience. Almost.
There are a number of pitfalls in the book that could have been avoided. Firstly, while I loved the style of Usha’s writing, I could not really feel the emotions coming through it. The sparks flying between Kats and Vir were mechanical, if not non-existent. Also, when one among them got killed, the girls showed so little emotions that made me wonder whether they were close friends or whether they were not. Same was the case when Lolita met Charan Raj. Secondly, there were a number of logical bloopers that I discovered in the book. Like when Kats and Minx sneak to the boys hostel for the second time, were the boys not in their room? Also, it is hard to believe Lolita could not recognize Aryan’s voice in the climax, when she gets kidnapped. There was an editorial blunder where the gym supervisor was incorrectly mentioned as the construction supervisor (I spent a few seconds wondering where did the latter come from). Vir too went abroad like Bishnu did, for his college education. Which means he has very much lived in India for quite a long time and our innate Indianness is in his blood. So why do Bishnu and Kat have to explain things to him in at least a couple of places as if he were a foreigner visiting the country?
While overall the book is a good read, it has the potential to be a great read if editing had been tighter and caught pitfalls like the ones mentioned above. Nevertheless, I did enjoy reading Madras Mangler and look forward to reading more and more from Usha Narayanan.
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