Out of Print 38 has been released.
If we were to identify a common theme that runs through the stories in the issue, it would be the idea of being taken to or pushed to an edge where you are faced with the untenable. These stories each deal with that precipice in different ways: by acts of heroism, withdrawal, resignation, hope or simply by entering an other, more tenable, reality.
‘Moon Mountain’ by Bangladeshi writer Shaheen Akhtar is an intense, complex and beautifully paced examination of the lingering generational tragedy that results from uprooting and displacing a people. It is set in the besieged Chittagong Hill Tracts. A young boatman confronts the submergence of his ancestral village lying below him as he ferries ignorant, self-absorbed tourists through the beautiful green waters of the Kaptai Dam. Translated elegantly from Bangla by Kabita Chakma, who is herself from the region, we are honoured to feature it.
Three stories come to their culmination by skirting confrontation in different unexpected ways. Anuradha Kumar’s ‘All the Way to the Twelfth Floor’ is told through the voice of Gauri, the domestic help at the home of an elderly gentleman who lives alone in the adjacent apartment building. The narrative brings the reader back, again and again to the dilemma she faces the moment she feels not his gaze but ‘his wrinkled gnarled hands scaly on her skin’. We follow her up and down the endless steps in the stairwell where she withdraws when crisis hits, an extraordinary escape into the self. ‘The Voice from the Garbage Chute’ by Tanvi Saraf is set in a terrifying dystopian extension of the present pandemic realities. The world is shutting down, the measures of the economy have shifted, those who are still alive are incarcerated in their homes, it is illegal to produce children and extinction is a very real possibility. The main protagonist and her husband have found ways to lead a life, a strange but steady life in this scenario when her equanimity is shaken upon hearing a voice. ‘Young, raw, real. It was coming out of the garbage chute.’ How will she react? The next story ‘Umrao’ by Gatha is set in Delhi, where the police have ‘ended their implicit agreement with vampires and started killing them en masse.’ Mrinal has responded to her mother, Umrao’s frightened plea, ‘there are no humans here’ to protect her, and returned home. The story explores the complexity of an acutely difficult mother-daughter relationship, fraught, cruel, unrelenting yet, sometimes tender, whose emotional intensities drive the protagonists into behaving with both petty and profound meanness.
We feature three stories where the narratives drive the main character over an edge into wild, bizarre, seemingly uncharacteristic extreme behaviour. Suhit Kelkar’s, ‘There’s Another Way’, explores an illicit love affair at the very beginning of its existence. The emotional pressures that each of the characters feels, compounded by the lies and secrecy surrounding their meeting, and most of all, the schism in their expectations leads to a dramatic escalation in his response to the situation. In Michelle D’costa’s examination of the loneliness, the resident hopefulness, and the burgeoning interest in body and sexuality of an earnest and relatively naive young woman, the reader is taken to a festival in a women’s college in Bangalore. Titled ‘The Guy Who Could Dance’, the passing, often deliberate small cruelties that are directed at a newcomer, an outsider to the fold and the inherent anxieties that beset her – ‘He will find out you are a virgin, you haven’t even kissed a guy’ – culminate in a response that she does not know she has in her. ‘Dom Teotónio’ is a historical story, set in Goa by Maria Elsa Da Rocha, one of the last writers who wrote in Portuguese, and translated by Paul Melo e Castro. It recounts the preparation for and wedding of a young nobleman. Opening a window both into the lives of the privileged Portuguese gentry of the past and the relationship between different communities in the region, it ends in a dramatic confrontation evoking satisfying sounds of the crashing of swords and the shattering of glass.
Two of the remaining stories in the issue deal with the limit by not quite arriving at it. Saritha Rao-Rayachoti gives us a story of separation, and the potential of reunion told from the point of view of a young woman looking back at her childhood. The power of this story – that conjures aromas as triggers of memory so strongly that the reader can almost experience them – is that it steers clear of drama and draws the reader towards the edge of emotional fulfilment without quite getting there. Mariya Salim’s ‘Burning’ is a story of domestic abuse and marital rape. The protagonist, the abused wife, never quite confronts the abuse or her abuser for what it is. Rather, she circles, like many in our society, around the situation, justifying the actions of her husband and making excuses for him. Will her understanding of the balance of society ever tip?
The last story in this issue of Out of Print 38, ‘Piece of the Moon’ by Vismay Harani is an unlikely one of adventure and heroism. Young love, an errant lover distracted by his telescope, an ultimatum – a demand for a ‘piece of the moon’ as a proof of true love are the ingredients that make up this warm, sweet, human tale of love.
The extraordinary artwork, a 2015 site specific intervention using gold leaf in Shyam Bazaar, Dhaka, that speaks to every story in the issue, is by Ayesha Sulatana.