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I was born ugly. That’s what my mother always said.
‘Sonny,’ she said, ‘when are we ever going to find a girl good enough to marry you?’ A cunning choice of phrase,because by good enough she didn’t mean would the girl match up to my exacting standards, but rather, would she be good-natured and kind enough to take me on….I had thick curly black hair and flat features. But I had lustrous, velvety skin, even if it too was rather black for my mother’s refined Sanskritized tastes. My one great feature was my smile… says Sonny Mahadewala, Ashok Ferrey’s protagonist in The Ceaseless Chatter of Demons.
Born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Sonny’s childhood in Kandy is a mix of privileged but strictly traditional existence, secretive exorcisms( because his mother is convinced that he is The Devil) and exasperating family politics. When the opportunity arises, he quickly leaves everything behind, including the Daha Ata Sanni Yakku( the eighteen demons responsible for all the ills of the world), and moves to Oxford. Little does he realize that in a discreet pew, tucked away behind a fat Romanesque column, in the eighth century Catholic Church of St Frideswide awaits The Devil!
This book is definitely a page turner; for me it started with wanting to know why Ferrey had chosen to write yet another immigrant story(having read The Professional earlier). But thankfully, this thought was short-lived! This new novel, though set partly in England, is seeped in the essence of Sri Lanka. The Demons do chatter and The Devil does play mischief, eventually pulling Sonny and his white wife into the thick of things, bringing them back to the Mahadewala Walauwa. In Sonny’s ancestral home, there is no escaping the inevitable and there is definitely no escaping Sonny’s formidable mother, Clarice Mahadewala, known as the Kumarihamy.
Mix together Ashok Ferrey’s proficient writing, his own experience of living abroad and his knowledge of the idiosyncrasies of his country, and you get a heady cocktail of humour, mystery and drama. The story has it’s fair share of introspective moments, especially for those who are familiar with the cultural eccentricities of subcontinent. On the surface, the novel is satirical and Sonny and his mother seem quite comical. But as the pages turn, the depth of the plot and the characters starts to unravel. The minor characters serve their purpose, connecting the narrative to the local setting. Ferrey’s penchant for humor and his literary mastery enable him to churn out a delightful story.
And because I know Ashok, I could almost hear Sonny narrating this riveting tale: in Ashok’s well-modulated voice!!!
A pleasurable read!