ABOUT THE STORY Manu Bhattathiri’s story describes a marginal man’s piquant plan for the restoration of his happiness and self-respect in a small town in south India. Kunjumon, the earnest, lonely and middle-aged accountant whose journey it narrates, is the latest entrant in Indian literature’s large hall of underdogs. Kunjumon is unable to make his peace with the humiliation of his wife having left him for another man in the same town, until he conceives of a magnanimous gesture that will redeem him in his own eyes and elevate him before those for whom he is a subject of mockery and pity.
Is Kunjumon’s desire to defend shivering old people against the cold a genuinely altruistic one, or an investment in his own restitution? Bhattathiri prefers not to judge, involving us instead in the comedy and pathos of his extremely punctilious protagonist’s preparations (“there was nothing wrong in going about something methodically and logically”) over the hours, days and weeks for his impending leap into moral heroism. A lustrous example of the art of psychological realism in fiction, ‘The Cold’ is also made distinctive by Bhattathiri’s light but sure-handed refurbishment of the conventions of the form. When we read that “the tree shook a little and suppressed a giggle”, we realise we are in the world of a story—and a storyteller—similarly tremulous with suppressed laughter and a love of human foibles.