Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Out of Print 17

We feature ten stories in Out of Print 17.

Mira Brunner: Cosmogram 4
Loss and grief wash the existence of the protagonists with an all-pervading, constancy in two of the stories. Manju Kak’s Andaman follows the visit of a woman in mourning for her son lost at Kargil to the Andaman Islands where encounters with beauty, grace, humanity, and the gentle ridiculousness of civil bureaucracy are confronted by the violence of nature. News of disaster infuses the protagonist’s mind with further layers of sorrow, and yet, is the reader sensing the beginning of some distancing, a teetering hint of a fragile equilibrium? In Blink, by Shruthi Rao a young girl, profoundly destabilised by the shocking loss of her sister, lives with a sense of certainty that her sister is within the vicinity. The clean, straightforward narrative reveals the child’s grounded middle-class world over which is juxtaposed the wild anxiety of a mind that is unable to relax for fear of missing her sister’s every manifestation. 

Another story of a young girl dealing with loss, this one set in the floods of Kashmir, is Medha Gupta’s Alice of Abadhghar. The girl withdraws into Wonderland and focuses on the fate of Alice as her world, including her book, is washed away. The end leaves the reader fraught with anxiety for the multiple fates that could befall the girl as she is offered sanctuary by the maulvi at the dargah but prepares to set off to find Alice before she is beheaded by the Duchess.

A young man bids goodbye to his lover in Harman Mavi’s You Are Dead; his dialogue, his stream of memory, his eulogy reveals that his lover’s identity, his joy, indeed his life was shattered by the ruling that theirs was a forbidden love. It is a tribute, a necessary one in a landscape where as Colm Tóibín puts it in his review of Gregory Woods’ A History of Gay Literature: The Male Tradition:Gay people … grow up alone; there is no history. There are no ballads about the wrongs of the past, the martyrs are all forgotten.’

Physical distance, translocation does not release five scrapping brothers from the trap of greed and discontent that has led them from money and estate in their native Bihar to running sandwich stalls on the streets of Mumbai. Altaf Tyrewala’s Vishnu Sandwich Stall is a story that captures the intimacy of the brothers’ mutual animosity, and the hopeless consequences, the sad sense of the inescapability that it leads to.

Marriage, entrapment, release: a young woman in an ideal marriage to the perfect man examines her place in the relationship and finds herself empty and unfulfilled. Is this examination, in Bhumika Anand’s Dosa, of the shallowness, the perforations that define her life the first step to distancing herself and recovering her identity? In Anannya Dasgupta’s Swimming Pool, on the other hand, a woman’s perception of her place in her marriage is at another stage entirely. Points of view of both husband and wife weave through the narrative as the gleaming back and enticing body of young swimmer draw the attention of the woman as she waits for her husband and son.

Sharp, staccato in its telling, Puzhudi’s Worklife takes the reader through the relentless treadmill of daily life, stressful, without respite. Hope of release, of realising ones dreams, while it rests with the individual, seems distant and inaccessible to those trapped in its cycle.

Vijay Medtia’s simply lain out Haram is a tale of everyday activity in which the frameworks of prescription and proscription are interpreted to find what works for daily life. The clashing of cultures and the expectations of different generations, are dealt with in an almost idealised sample of mutual respect, humour and humanity.

Dollhouse, first published in 1941 by G V Krishna Rao, and translated for this issue by GRK Murty examines a utopic model of societal equality and its fallacies through the banter between a mother and her young son. The child lays out his idea of a model world where justice and equality prevail, but exploits it to his personal benefit, thus shattering its very basis.

The artwork by Mira Brunner, Cosmogram 4, was commissioned specifically for the issue.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Out of Print Author Series: Mahesh Rao

Out of Print editor, Ram Sadasiv spoke to Mahesh Rao whose wonderful The Smoke is Rising has just been shortlisted for the Shakti Bhatt First Book Prize 2014. An extract from the book appeared in the June 2014 issue of the magazine, so readers who don’t yet have a copy of the novel may get a taste of the world he is writing about here.

Mahesh was in touch with us from London where he is promoting the release of the paperback issue. 

Out of Print:
The Smoke Is Rising is populated with a huge cast of vividly drawn characters but the most compelling character may be the city of Mysore itself – in some ways the novel reads as a love letter to the city of Mysore.  You were born in Kenya and lived in the UK for several years before settling in Mysore – what drew you to the city as a place of residence and as a subject for your writing?

Thank you, I think it is a love letter to the city but it wasn't always conceived that way. The early ideas about the book came when I began to wonder what Malgudi would look like if it were being written about today. And of course, that's a fairly terrifying and grandiose project  — to rethink a classic setting in that way. So I tried to fudge the issue by creating my own fictional city, giving it the ironic name 'Belaku' (‘light’ in Kannada). After I'd written the first draft, it was, however, pointed out to me that I had in fact written about Mysore. And when I revisited the manuscript, I had to concede that this was true. I hadn't created a fictional city at all: my updated Malgudi turned out to be modern Mysore, a fact that bruised my assessment of my imaginative powers but, on the other hand, was a wonderful illustration of how a city can get under your skin and insist on being written about. 

I have always loved Mysore  — its leisurely pace, its crumbling architecture, its green spaces. It allows me to do all the things that I love doing: writing, ambling without purpose, and being exceptionally inquisitive about people's lives in, I hope, not too awful a manner. Plus, we have a local newspaper that mentions the word 'miscreants' at least ten times in every issue. It's hard to place a value on that. 

Out of Print:
You write beautifully, but it is a very classic English style, which presents an interesting contrast with the subject matter of The Smoke Is Rising: you are telling the story of contemporary Mysore using the same language that Evelyn Waugh might have used to describe Edwardian London. What do you think about the role of language:  vernacular, slang, idiomatic constructions, portmanteau words, etc as it impacts your own writing?

Again, thank you – as a big fan of Evelyn Waugh’s, the comparison is very flattering, although I’m sure not one that would stand up to scrutiny. There is a distinct authorial voice in the novel, an omniscient narrator who swoops over the city and into the lives of its inhabitants. And this is a voice that is probably the result of all the nineteenth century novels that were part of my formative reading experiences. It also provides the sense of distance and detachment needed for the satirical sections of the novel. As you say, it is at odds with the cadences and syntax of the characters in the book, and again, this was deliberate. I think a very effective way of achieving a sense of place is through dialogue and local idioms. And in India the regional variations in the way English is spoken can be a rich source of that colour and can also be put to work for moments of comedy or pathos. So I tried to make sure the characters spoke a ‘real’ language and not a literary one. Apart from anything else, it’s so much fun to write.

Out of Print:
With its panoply of characters and interlocking storylines The Smoke Is Rising feels like it would work as a web serial. Do you have any plans for a screenplay/adaptation?  A bare minimum of set dressing would be required – you could just head out with a handheld Digital HD camera and shoot the scene in the actual location that the author imagined ;). Any actual locations that you would like to share with us/ google streetview?

I love this idea! No one has approached me but I can live in hope. People have told me that the book feels quite cinematic and I'm delighted by this. In fact, the prologue was inspired by the famous opening scene in Orson Welles's  'A Touch of Evil'. There's a long tracking shot that takes in sights and sounds of a Mexican border town — we hear snatches of conversation and music, there are glimpses of shops and hotels, shadowy figures disappearing into side streets, a honeymooning couple walking down the street. I wanted to capture a similar panorama as Girish walks through the centre of Mysore, with the Chadrayaan space mission TV coverage flickering at various points in the background. 

As for locations, the streets around Irwin Rd and Sayyaji Rao Rd, Devaraja Market, the Manasagangotri university campus, Jaganmohan Palace, Amba Vilas Palace, Chamundi Hill, the Bangalore-Mysore highway — these are all real places in Mysore where some of the action takes place. Cheluvamba Park and the grander houses of Yadavagiri could easily stand in for the fictional Mahalakshmi Gardens and parts of Kukkarhalli Lake and Karanji Lake could pass as Tejasandra Lake. There is no lakeside Promenade anywhere with its fancy new constructions so you would need to boost the budget for those scenes!

Mahesh Rao was born and grew up in Nairobi, Kenya. He studied politics and economics at the University of Bristol and law at the University of Cambridge and the London School of Economics. In the UK he has worked as a lawyer, academic researcher and bookseller. His short fiction has been shortlisted for the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, the Bridport Prize and the Zoetrope: All-Story Short Fiction Contest; his work has appeared in a number of publications including The Baffler, Prairie Schooner and Elle. The Smoke Is Rising is his first novel. He lives in Mysore, India.

Friday, August 1, 2014

DNA-Out of Print Fiction: The Winners

DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction, 2014
The Winners

Shruthi Rao wins the DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction Contest 2014.
Four additional stories make the DNA print edition.
All five works, as well as the shortlisted stories may be read on DNA Online - search for them by title or author name.