Chabter after enchanting, dark, pin-prickly self aware Chabter, Deepak Unnikrishnan’s Temporary People consumes the reader in whole, like the countless Pravasis and suitcases sprouting limbs littered allover its stories. The writing’s self-awareness stops just short of being too sweet to swallow, the bitterness too heady to spit. I read it like I used to read Stephen King back in highschool (during the run through Dreamcatcher, our motherly librarian was concerned). I was moved to tears many inappropriate times in state transport buses and sprawled atop awkward couch layouts during afternoon indulgences in the studio.
He writes as if he knows—exactly, down to the quirky typographic detail—how someone is going to read not the lines but the inbetweens. You could see, with eyes half-closed, all the revisions the text must have been through, lighting pages up like Christmas trees in heat. For example (despite attempts, there are no stone-set rules in how Malayalam words ought to be anglicised*) he transliterates vegetable into Pucchakkari. A belittling† piece on the platter. In an Arundhati Roy book, this would’ve read like kulcha bait. Not in Unnikrishnan’s Chabters. Here, their visa out of linguistic self-harm is a knowing nod from the author, from behind the printed page. That is to say, I maybe imagining things. Pucchakkari and Kadakkaran blend in, with no (apologetic, italicised) footnote in view.
There is a Kiran Nagarkaresque rhythm to the sentences—the wordplay is effortless, long sentences bookended by short, punchy ones. The blessings of a coconut oiled tongue, alien but comfortably so, shines through. The more out-of-the-ordinary parts and the magically realist parts read like there were carefully measured, quality-controlled substances involved. Even then, the prose is grounded, the wackiness hitting you in ways least expected. Sentences deliver aftershocks way beyond their designated periods. Some don’t even wait to grow up to adult-sized sentences to drive home the despair. A two page Chabter (Google ‘Pucchakari’ and look at the Books result) on Gulf Malayalee nouns turns sinister word-sized-sentence after word-sized-sentence.‡
The type treatments and typesetting complement the content too; the blacked out words aren’t gimmicky, the illustrations aren’t afterthoughts. My only gripe with the design department is a misplaced diacritic late into the book. The Rodrigo-Corral cover tops the package off nicely, equal parts architectural plan and slice of the temporary, replaceable lives inside.
* A user-friendly version would say Pachchakkari, but that sounds pedestrian. Think Poppadoms over Pappatams.
† Puccham is denigration. Pachcha is green. Kari is a lady who trades in precedents.
‡ As I was reading this, I was mentally putting the terms in a spreadsheet, trying to find method to sort the madness into something as effective as the one in the book.