Book Review: Virgin Gingelly

Book: Virgin Gingelly
Author: V. Sanjay Kumar
Number of pages: 248
Price: Rs. 499

Virgin Gingelly by V. Sanjay Kumar is a collection of short stories, comprising “existential street dogs, short-changed lovers, disgruntled housewives, runaways with bombs, veshti-wearing elders and nihilist teenagers coming to terms with their sexuality. With a singular desire to escape, these characters visit each other’s stories creating a layered narrative of loss and ennui.”

Gingelly, for the uninitiated, is “a viscous oil that marinates gunpowder, anoints heads and crisps appalams.”

The stories are set in a modern middle-class, housing-cooperative Chennai called Rainbow Colony. “Its folks are aged, gentle and retired. They cannot see very well and they walk with difficulty. In the evening they discuss their medical histories and relate tales of their valour when confronted with needles and knives.”

Virgin Gingelly is not an easy read. It asks you to be patient. And then it gets enjoyable. It haphazardly swings between the past and the present to weave tales of ordinary men and women constantly battling ideas of identity, belonging and space. The writing is exquisite. Very engaging. Short sentences. Simple ideas. Woven together into delightful short stories.

There’s something laid-back (albeit, not casual) about Kumar’s writing. Just like the tales he is telling us of. Instead of a compilation of stories, I read it as a series of long, sometimes connected, sometimes disconnected blog posts. However, I’m still not sure I was able to imbibe its entire essence. But the tales he narrates are simple vignettes of random day-to-day incidents and observations, replete with insights by the local denizens of Chennai.

While I mostly enjoyed all the stories in Virgin Gingelly, “Valiban” was my favorite. It narrates how a teenager leaves Chennai for Bombay to write a colloquial film set in Chennai. I loved Kumar’s description of Bombay. “The thing about Mumbai is that it has no preamble. I suspect foreplay doesn’t exist or at least it is nearing extinction.” (page 190)

A little later on the following page, he writes, “This place is a bad romance, I felt. A four-letter word like love needs nourishment. People here live in square feet. I need space that has no purpose.” The story was also a beautiful illustration of the angst, love and attachment between a father and a son.

Kumar’s choice of words for titles of his stories is intriguing. Crisp, to the point:

  • Badnaam Basti
  • Wordless
  • Fassle
  • Rainbow
  • The Confession

Kumar also makes use of some Tamil words in his writing. While it adds to the flavor of his writing, it is somewhat alienating to his non-Tamil readers. I mentally switched off in places because I couldn’t fathom the context or the meaning.

However, Virgin Gingelly is a refreshing read. It will grow upon you very gradually. And you’ll be eagerly turning its pages before you know it. Take your time in relishing the tales of old Madras and immerse yourself in the leisurely pace of its urban life.

Learn more about Virgin Gingelly.

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