Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"The Grammarian"

Annapurna Potluri was born and raised in Portland, Oregon and moved to New York to attend New York University where she studied comparative literature and linguistics and went on to earn an MPhil in theoretical linguistics from Cambridge University. She has lived in Italy and India and is currently working at the South Asia Institute at Columbia University.

Potluri applied the Page 69 Test to her debut novel, The Grammarian, and reported the following:
From Page 69:
As it happened, and to Alexandre’s slight annoyance, it seemed he and Anjali shared a habit of waking up early. Every morning she would say, “Mary, bring some coffee,” and Anjali’s voice was cold, her eyes not even lifting to the servant woman’s. Despite her handicap, Anjali was able to convey a profound degree of an icy sense of superiority. Though the color of her eyes was a rich, dark brown, they were set with a look of glacial calm, a masculine hardness that Alexandre found unnerving in a girl. And every morning Mary would reply, “Yes, Miss Anjali,” and scuttle back from her mistress, her plump, pleasant bovine face lowered in submission.

Mornings in the Adivi household started early. By daylight he could hear the sounds of the servants gathering water and readying the day’s food preparations and feeding the dogs. Occasionally, he would find Adivi up reading the paper in his white nightshirt and dhoti, but the women of the house never left their rooms without having bathed and dressed first. He had never seen Lalita look so much as slightly disheveled. When she made her entrance, she would head straight for the kitchen and oversee making breakfast. Kanakadurga performed her morning puja after a bath each morning and Alexandre would sometimes hear her repeated Sanskrit mantras or hear her ringing a prayer bell as he made his way out to the garden.
Page 69 of The Grammarian is the first page of the sixth chapter and is a perfect sample of the book in toto. This scene, like most of the book, is told through Alexandre’s eyes—he is the outsider here, and he’s a very observant person, so I wanted to write the scene through the viewpoint of someone to whom all of this is new, so even the minutiae are noteworthy. This scene also illustrates some of tensions of status and caste that are expressed through small actions, such as taking a cup of coffee.

It also a good example of the performative aspect of Indian “public” life, which includes being in a position to receive people in your own home. One of the things that I think French and Indian culture have in common is that sharply drawn line between public and private. You won’t see Indian college students coming to class in their pajamas—once you leave your bedroom, you have to be ready to engage fully with society, and being groomed and well-dressed is a mark of respect not just about self-regard, but a sign of respect to the people around you. It’s about propriety, and it’s particularly important with regards to women. Like everywhere, women bear the burden of maintaining a sense of national, communal, familial honor. Nary a hair can be out of place.
Learn more about the book and author at Annapurna Potluri's website.

My Book, The Movie: The Grammarian.

--Marshal Zeringue