Out of Print 23 features six stories whose settings span the rural to the urban, whose writing explores the experimental to the more traditional narrative.
Another brutally direct piece, this time told from a deeply personal viewpoint that examines home and intimacy is Gitanjali Dang’s Burial at Sea. The protagonist must negotiate an alienated city full of dangers and is forced to move underground because it is almost an imperative for women to control the ‘velocity and sound of their streams’ when they urinate and ‘all loos everywhere are under surveillance’.
Nighat Gandhi’s Sharmaji’s Shoes and Janet H Swinney’s Drishti have a pacing that allows their readers to enter their characters’ worlds with great engagement. Sharmaji, an army man, flawed, inherently misogynistic, disconnected and unaware of his failings finds his shoes have gone missing at an ashram retreat. He is drawn so subtly by author Nighat Gandhi that we are deeply sympathetic to his intense loneliness even as we feel revulsion at his arrogance and his lack of self-awareness. The principal character in Janet Swinney’s Drishti, a lifeguard at a sea resort lives in an odd transitional social space. His observations, his commentary on the world he is guarding from the unpredictabilities of the sea form a backdrop for the tension of the story in which he entertains himself playing elaborate games on his phone while on the job of protecting the resort guests.
Salil Chaturvedi’s story resonates most literally with the cover image by Ranjeeta Kumari, because the main character, Ramakant also makes a journey from his village in Bihar to the city every year. Ramakant’s acute observations have taught him that a person’s pillow carries a person’s dreams, and have also led him to conclude, from his diligent reading of the newspaper, that what may have given rise to the unusually powerful floods that besiege his village that year may be deliberate and man-made.
An obsessive attention to the photograph of his first woman lover introduces the reader to the asthma-ridden protagonist in the O Henry Prize winner Shruti Swamy’s Black Dog. Set in the IIT, there is a compelling intensity with which it examines friendship, love, sexuality, and when something ‘flared up, nearly electric between’ Raju and him, the sharp severance that must accompany distancing.
The image is by Ranjeeta Kumari and is titled Afternoon (water colour on paper, 14”x 20”, 2016). Ranjeeta, who is from Patna now lives and works in New Delhi. About the work, she says, I found this piece of cloth, a gamcha, at the workers' site. I clicked a few pictures of it alongside some other objects and tools. The subtle lines drawn upon it give it the look of an abstract painting indicative of the myriad perspectives regarding the issues faced by the workers. The image became very significant to me as a metaphor of the silence which speaks a million words. The cloth can be viewed as a flag; the cloth is symbolic of the identity of the workers as it is tied by them on the head, the shoulders, the hips, and is used in multiple ways; the cloth is an icon of the existence of the workers and is the red colour of revolution.