The Issue by Tanuj Solanki
Reviewed by Michelle D’costa
The title is apt for the plot of the story. It ‘promises’ an issue. Issue between? Two characters, a man and a woman, that we later learn are husband and wife. We are introduced to the characters immediately after the lizard. The ‘fat’ lizard which contrasts well with their ‘narrow’ mattress shows just how overbearing the presence of the lizard is in their lives. But is the ‘lizard’ the issue here or is it something else? Is it symbolic? This story reminded me of Chekhov’s ‘One must never place a loaded rifle on the stage if it isn't going to go off.’Here, the lizard is the gun and the curtain on the story is opened by the entrance of the lizard and it ends with the lizard too. Also, the story is packed with only relevant details like making a case to the reader to understand what exactly the ‘issue’ is here. We are now a part of an intense discussion, the lizard’s presence bringing them closer. Here, both are equally daunted by the lizard’s presence and it’s a somber atmosphere. Also, if you think of it, why lizard? Lizards are pretty tough to kill.
Halfway into the story we know ‘the issue’ is important because it threatens to ‘unsettle’ their lives. The issue is the wife’s departure to study further. We get to see the room a little. It’s dark. So silent they can hear each other breathe and the recurrent gleam on a blade of the ceiling fan. The stakes have been raised when we know the couple is ‘married’. This is serious. The decision of one will affect another completely. The man has more say definitely because he’s her husband than if he wasn’t. They’re legally bound and the husband puts forward all this to his wife but all this logic is only a way to shield his brimming emotions. And the wife sees through his ‘insecurity’. The reader gets to see that they are finally discussing the matter at hand openly that had been ballooning for a long time.
When the man rises to switch on the light, it’s his way of confronting the problem, a small step at a time. The light would make the conversation more real. Also, now that he’s starting to accept it, he wants to see her because she would be leaving soon. But he can’t look at her face, it would make it too real. We see that the light makes him admit to being worried about her feelings if she didn’t go and the dent it could cause their marriage, this gives the reader the impression that he doesn’t want to be just married to her but happily married. The lizard is right beside them now.
The proximity of the lizard is the proximity of the problem, it’s right there and the whole story about the man’s denial of her leaving, him not ready for it, is now right there. A do or die situation. He had never experienced before – is the courage he finally musters to deal with the problem. The tail still alive is little hope in his heart that she won’t go. Also, that the problem couldn’t really be solved or arrived at a satisfactory conclusion.
His inability to confront the issue previously had made him retreat to the darkness, and by killing the lizard in the end he is confronting it. His denial of it all shows the readers just how difficult her departure is to him and how difficult it is to talk about it. The inability to talk about difficult emotions doesn’t hint at a macho personality because he is not the typical ‘macho’ type that men are pressured with being. He doesn’t think women shouldn’t study further or be ambitious. In the beginning of the story itself we get to know that he is ‘afraid’ of the lizard and his lying on the mattress proves it and when he kills the insect in the end he is trying to be a little like his wife and not like the adage goes – Be a man.
Scenes from movies come to mind when the male actor kills an insect in the presence of a squealing actress. In this story, the woman isn’t squealing, she’s ambitious, not afraid to take leaps and he envies her for it in a way, her courage. She’s the one who asks what he really felt about her leaving. She asks. To ask is to be prepared for any answer. And ‘really’ also signifies about how considerate she is towards his feelings which I saw as feminist- that she does think of family when pursuing her career/dreams.
I read Alan Rossi’s story and thought Tanuj’s rendition was brilliantly done. Highly recommended.
Reviewer Michelle D’costa is a writer and the editor and runs the literary journal Kaani. She was long listed in the DNA-OUT of PRINT short story contest in 2015, 2016 and 2017.