Some of the very best fantasy writing often defies, to some extent, the label “fantasy”. Whether through the depth and realism of the world or the subtlety of the more fantastic elements, the piece leaves you wondering exactly how to classify it. This is the problem I am coming up against with reviewing Raam Reddy’s It’s Raining in Maya .
‘Maya’, as the blurb will tell you, refers to a ‘fictional Indian town’ where ‘it is easier to get lost than any other place in the world’ – one of Reddy’s light touches of the fantastic that never directly contravene reality but make it seem as though anything is possible. This distinction between perception and truth is created in part because of the symbolism of the tale. It’s Raining describes a town’s transformation from a quintessential peaceful, rural hamlet into an increasingly industrialized and disillusioned social sphere. However, rather than attempting to squeeze this complex metamorphosis into the book’s concise one hundred and sixty pages, Reddy takes us on a much more emotionally involving journey by describing the intellectual development of a young girl – Aditi – and using her increasing awareness to explore the town’s changes. In a way, Aditi is our avatar as we progress through the story, she has spent all her life in Maya yet, being still a young child, the majority of what she knows of the place has been second hand, given in descriptions and history by those who know Maya well, just as we have only been told about the place rather than shown.
The beauty of the tale is that as Aditi forms her own evaluations of her surroundings, we too start to develop a feeling for Maya– together with Aditi, we discover the subtle differences between long-ingrained assumptions about the town and its present reality. Admittedly there are times where we draw inferences that Aditi is too young to understand, this is where we begin to encounter one of Reddy’s staples – dramatic irony. By exposing us to Aditi’s innocent thoughts, he alludes to darker events and more harrowing troubles than she can comprehend. In this way, he gives memories such as the younger brother who was born ‘asleep’ the impact that they deserve without resorting to maudlin speeches or shoehorned lectures.
As well as Aditi, Reddy introduces us to other members of Maya’s populace. He describes Aditi’s mother and father who are trying to build a life based on his feeble earnings at the paint mixers and her father’s boss- a dark figure with a bloody past that creates some of the best suspense of the tale. We are also acquainted with an old woman who has taken in an orphan wise beyond her years and a madman who only wants to protect the great trees surrounding the town. Finally, we are occasionally treated to scenes with two old men, only labelled one and two, who almost take up Shakespearean roles of uninvolved commentators and chat aimlessly about philosophy, life and Maya’s history – giving some of the most suggestive glimpses into the Mayan attitude. One thing that almost every character in Reddy’s Maya has in common is their wish to escape, to leave the place that no-one leaves. Here too, the writer deftly intermingles the suggestion that some mystic force is holding the citizens in place with the possibility that they are simply immobilized by small-town fear.
As the tale goes on, built carefully out of individual and poetically constructed microstories that could each feasibly stand alone, tension builds with the characters’ struggles for freedom and survival becoming increasingly urgent. Suspense grows in a subtle yet inexorable manner, peaking at a thrilling pivotal moment near the end which promises either escape and salvation or blood, destruction and death. All the while, Aditi watches from the sidelines, despairing in an uncomprehending kind of way over the devastation of her most treasured connections to nature and the, not unrelated, loss of her blissful ignorance (symbolized by her inability to draw the simplistically carefree pictures she had produced at the start of the book). Fortunately, Reddy hits exactly the right tone to make this book a deep yet entertaining read – avoiding the blunt, clumsy and depressing train-crash writing that some might have resorted to in the attempt to communicate his message.
It’s Raining in Maya is a skillful and honest metaphorical insight into the changes in some of India’s smaller towns – expertly creating the feeling of isolation and entrapment that can be widespread in these settlements. It also describes, in a startlingly convincing manner, a young girl’s battle to maintain her spirituality in the light of her growing awareness of the world.
Join us at PageTurners on Sunday at 5.30pm for a presentation of the book, a reading, and the opportunity to meet Raam Reddy himself.