When an Indian author writes in English, it is a strenuous task to do something that can overstep the boundaries. Tales From a Vending Machine by Kochi-based author Anees Salim has clearly surpassed these boundaries without any effort.
Go to any part of India, it would not be difficult to spot a Hasina Mansoor, the protagonist. The backdrops, the airport lounge, even the names with which she addresses her parents, siblings and colleagues will not give you a slightest clue that the story is set in Kerala.
It begins with a lot of promise, with all the necessary elements, including humour, but the author fails to keep up the tempo till the end.
Hasina enters a new world when she lands a job as a vending machine attendant at the airport departure lounge. With scant resources at her disposal, the resilient Hasina dreams of making it big. She is thankful for the job, dreams of being in a plane, even becoming a pilot or air hostess some day.
Thanks to her, many characters come alive, whether it be the coupon man who advises her on anything and everything under the sun, the cookie lady whom she abhors, the Pakistani cricketer, and the air hostess, Natasha Singh, from whom she learns that she could also aspire to be one.
Unlike her eventful work in the airport, her life with her family - Abba, mother, Shamla, and younger brother, Ali - is mundane, until she falls in love with her cousin Eza. The story talks about how she evolves through the many incidents which happens in her family and workplace and enables Hasina to make the major decisions of her life.
The climax is aptly titled as the Emergency Exit and is a surprising one. But if the author had given a bit of depth in the preceding chapters, the ending would have given readers an experience to cherish. Though Hasina has matured from an innocent to a practical girl, Eza stands between the extremes.
At the outset, Eza shows maturity, but, all of a sudden, he becomes the villain. There is little to convince the reader that he is one. There are attempts to present good humour which Anees conveniently attains in the beginning, but goes overboard when he continues for the sake of doing it. For instance Hasina’s mispronunciations of words such as ‘Anne French’ for ‘Anne Frank’ or ‘Juice’ for ‘Jews’. When she is asked her blood group, Hasina says, “‘B plus. I was not sure if it was A plus or B plus or AB plus”.
It seems strange that the same Hasina, who could not pronounce her blood group correctly, talks about the Hollywood actor Richard Gere. The long and short of it is that it is a good story and a smooth read, provided that some of the flaws are glossed over.
My rating 3/5