Spooky tale
Reviewed by Ravia Gupta

Maria’s Room
By Shreekumar Varma.
Pages 324. Rs 299.

THERE are voices asking him where he is going. There are those that ask him to leave Goa. There are voices that laugh in his face and others that sob uncontrollably. Once, in the dark of a powerless dusk, he sits in candlelight, trying to get on with his story. He hears a soft voice full of mischief: "Come, let’s dance. Let’s rush out of the window and dance!"

To escape from troubles at home in Kerala, Raja decides to follow his heart. Straightening his body against the heavy rain, he decides to challenge the waves and experience the truth. The desolate landscape, a wasteland of wetness, the rain, a diagonal arc on the back of the wind, an empty horizon, barely able to stand, but he refuses to give up and challenges the entire world and comes to Goa, where he encounters "Maria".

Raja Prasad, a novelist, is in search of a story for his next book, while fighting with the failure of his previous one, he shifts to ‘Maria’s Guesthouse’ here, and this is where he has an affair with a young girl, even as he learns the story of another love, from another time. But the events of the past find their way into the present. As he settles down to write his second novel, Raja stumbles on to the mystery surrounding Maria’s death. And in the process he uncovers secrets of his own.

The developments in ‘Maria’s Guesthouse’ not only affect Raja’s life, but also those around him. There is something about ‘Maria’s Room’ which isn’t obvious. This is not a room that has been used; there is a musty smell and dampness in the sheets, older than perspiration. A sensation of "whiteness", although nothing in the room is actually white—an apprehension of purity or luster when all around is just dust and squalor. Even with the eyes firmly shut, "whiteness" percolates.

Raja is psyched by the knowledge of being in Maria’ room, something has passed into him, changing him in some strange manner. It’s a transparency that renders the room’s inner life open to him with clarity. The introduction of the Deneuve has triggered off some weird ethereal reaction in him. He tries to curb his dread with the weight of this insight.

Maria’s Room is a tale of love and memory of the drunken Fritz and the inscrutable Milton, the delectable Lorna and the frail Ruma. It is the story of how Raja meets and falls in love with Maria. His relationship with Maria brings out her past and also merges his past with the present, thereby reminding him of everything he has left behind.

Maria’s Room is a novel-within-the novel, which takes a clear shape and solidity along with Raja’s understanding of the world within and outside. It is about Raja’s journey to uncoil the coiled and then coiling it up again.

"Give me a dream. And then make it come true" explains the novel best, as it revolves around dreams in different stages.