Originally published in 1998, the book caused a stir in the Tamil Literary scene for its non-linear narrative and the brutal and explosive description of violence, torture and sex. It was beyond what the conservative society could take. Experimental novel with narrative technique moving between traditional styled story telling to poems, to plain single lined comments, monologues, telephone conversations and what not... The publishers blurb announces this as transgressive fiction, the book was a huge success in Tamil and in Malayalam, to which it was translated almost immediately.
The new age literature, I have observed, has taken up new ways of communication with the readers. From the time tested, traditional styles of 20th century, we see the use of latest jargons in the market place appearing in abundance in the books of young writers books in the new century. I am yet to see a facebook or twitter reference in the main stay literature, but the e-mails, blog entries, the internet uploads and cellphone transcripts have become common. This book , with its current shock value, might not be as shocking in next few decades, as the same is not a new concept in the literature of the world.
Charu Nivedia, while speaking to some of us, while he was in Bangalore , was mentioning using at least six styles of Tamil in his original. Intellectual urban Tamil to the slum dwellers brash use of language. However, understandably, it would be difficult to get that effect in a translation. There is no elitist use of language here. It is plain and non-baroque. Its often incomplete and abandoned. Seldom, he gets into story narration. Its a collage of various images.
“Is this really a novel, or merely a bunch of notes thrown together into a book?” , the narrator himself ask at the beginning of the book. "There’s been a mistake. The chapters have become shuffled. I might have had some ulterior motive". This is a book about literature. The unnamed narrator ( or sometime named as Charu Nivedita), refers to the texts written by someone called Muniyandi and that of a Misra. He himself modifies some of the writing and fills in the gaps wherever essential. The characters are not special, and there are no heroes. The novel ( if we can call that) itself as he claims a mixture of three writings. Its an experimental novel and the effort is in creating a deliberate stir with the readers and in that he succeeded. However, we can see a fantastic writer in those chapters where he move away from his experiment and gets to story telling.
This is a work of an intelligent writer. Some one who do want to create a stir. There is no linear story line. There is no real story to say, apart from various tales loosely held. The intention was not that of telling a story. It is to create a new way of writing, new way of communicating. Whatever was considered a taboo in the society ( to talk publicly and openly), but was past of the daily life,
What is appreciable is the effort in translation. I am usually wary about English translations from an Indian Language. This was a welcome change, with certain limitations ( like the local idioms ) not withstanding. Reading this has been a roller coaster ride often trash, often curious, often mediocre and brilliant at many places. Very interesting and path breaking novel.
Zero Degree ( 1998)
Charu Nivedita ( Translated form tamil by Pritham K Chakravarthy & Rakesh Khanna 2008 )