This is an anthology of 26 works, edited by Shinie Antony, who also contributes a few as author, interviewer and chronicler. The title, IMHO, is a bit misleading since the works themselves, while touching upon various aspects of life in the state or offering perspectives on its history, culture or working as travelogues, do not attempt to bring out the contrary nature, in whatever form that’s meant. Different individuals’ point of view, does that make a collection ‘contrary’? I’m not so sure. To be fair, a couple of works do attempt to show the contrary nature of the state and its residents, but that’s in isolation, and anyway are not enough in number to justify the title.
Having said that, there are quite a few which I immensely liked. Will mention those (in the order in which they appear in the book)
Odd Morning by Susan Visvanathan. I’ve always been a fan of her work after I read ‘Something Barely Remembered’. There’s something that’s wistful and haunting about the way she writes, and this piece follows that style.
William Dalrymple’s “The Strange Sisters of Mannarkad” is quite enlightening, and has a fascinating theme of religion and legend.
Anita Nair’s “Orhan Pamuk, Nair and I” is a wonderful short story that explores the psyche of Kerala’s writers and critics.
“The Argumentative Malayali” by D.Vijayamohan perhaps best justifies the book’s title, as it captures Kerala’s unique stance on global and national issues. As a malayali, I’d say that his observation and insights are spot on. Anti-communist? Probably, but I can’t blame him. For me, its one of the best works in the book.
S S Lal’s “A medicine that cannot be prescribed” is the kind of short story I love. The perfect mix of food for thought and a mild twist in the tale, that makes a perfect ending.
“Sitrep Seventies” by Hormis Tharakan is perhaps the strongest contender for the best work in the book. While I was mildly puzzled by the way the piece started, the way it swept across centuries and the lifestream nature of the work grew on me, and its amazing insights on law and human nature just raised it to a whole new level.
Shreekumar Varma’s “Fort Lines” is a story anyone who has lived in the state, or visited on a ‘wrong day’ can absolutely identify with. I wish the kind of cosmic justice that appeared in the work happened in real life too!!
“No Sex Please, We have cable” by Suresh Menon ended up as my favourite work. The humour is amazing, and I could easily identify the way a place changes or remains the same depending on what you’re looking for.
Nimz Dean, all of 13 years old is the youngest contributor at “The Gift”, and the 2 page work definitely shows promise.
Shashi Tharoor uses all of his skills to make a passionate case for Kerala and investments in the state in “Building Brand Kerala”. A well written piece but having lived there most of my life, and having worked there for some and having seen enough hartals in the recent past , I am not convinced.
“Happy” by Omana (as told to Shinie Antony) is amazing food for thought material, and is a fine ending to the book.
So that’s about 11 out of 26, which are really good works, and a few others could work for you depending on your interests.