Monday, October 1, 2018

Premise: 'The Threshold' by Jayant Kaikini, translated from Kannada by Pratibha Umashankar-Nadiger, reviewed by Brinda S Narayan

The Threshold by Jayant Kaikini
Translated from Kannada by Pratibha Umashankar-Nadiger
Reviewed by Brinda S Narayan

George Seurat, the founder of Pointillism, was a ‘shy, reclusive’ man who died at the young age of 31. In his Pointillist works, Seurat daubed tiny dots of color, one dot at a time. The eye in turn optically mixes the colors to create a sort of ‘luminous yet harmonious intensity’.

In ‘The Threshold’, the Kannada writer Jayant Kaikini creates a painstakingly constructed short story that shimmers with the luminosity of a Pointillist painting. As the critic C N Ramachandran writes in the introduction to Dots and Lines*, Kaikini belongs to the breed of Kannada writers that picks ‘precise and authentic details of daily life’, organising them to culminate in a particular type of experience. ‘The Threshold’ infuses the squalor and sordidness of Mumbai’s streets with a magical realist quality. It centres around Muchchi Mian’s modka dukaan, ‘a shop dealing in discarded body parts of dilapidated houses and old furniture’.

Into his broken-parts shop, an old wooden dressing table ushers in a ‘celestial being,’ ‘engrossed in her own reflection’. She flits in and out of his shop, sometimes evaporating behind curtains of dust, sometimes just leaving traces of her scent behind. Inside his shop, between a door-less fridge and over a rusty stove, Mian starts seeing glimmers of domestic bliss and romance, the illusory woman ‘anchoring Mian’s makeshift life’. Even when the municipal truck carries his stuff away, the fact that she heard him scream ‘was the only reality that mattered’.

Reading ‘The Threshold’ forces us to look more mindfully at the discarded lives that inhabit the city’s nooks and crannies, to pay attention to the poetic details that may elude the rushing commuter or scurrying pedestrian.

*Dots and Lines by Jayant Kaikini, Indialog Publications, New Delhi, 2004, translated from the original Kannada Amritaballi Kashaaya, edited by Vishvanath Hulikal. 

Reviewer Brinda S Narayan's story @ The Shanghai Tea House appeared in Out of Print June 2013.

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Premise: 'The Issue' by Tanuj Solanki reviewed by Michelle D’costa

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.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Premise: 'Supplication' by Neera Kashyap, a Response by Rebecca Lloyd

Supplication by Neera Kashyap
A Response by Rebecca Lloyd

I very much liked the descriptive passages in this story because they allowed me to accompany the narrator on the journey even though it is not an environment or culture I am familiar with therefore I was able to develop a feeling of closeness to the main character in so doing, which in turn gave me empathy for her situation when it is revealed. The difference between the shrine enclosed by the silver pillars with a chandelier above the grave and the simple prayer room at the back of the shrine is striking, and the juxtaposition of these two scenes allows the reader to reflect on the different values they represent.

Reviewer Rebecca Lloyd's 'Finger Buffet' appeared in Out of Print December 2010. 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Premise: 'Recess' by Mohit Parik reviewed by Ajay Patri

Recess by Mohit Parikh
Reviewed by Ajay Patri

Manan, the protagonist of Recess, is an unwilling Peter Pan. He wants to be like any other boy on the verge of turning sixteen: tall and strong with a cracked voice and a face marred by facial hair. Instead, he grapples with a late onset of puberty that has left him in a child’s body while his friends are morphing into nearly-men.

The story follows Manan through a few hours of school life, from the initial excitement of discovering that puberty has, in fact, not passed him by to the crushing realisation of how far he has to go before he can compare himself physically to his friends. This realisation does not arrive in a eureka moment; like the puberty he fantasises about, it comes in spurts, from being ridiculed for sounding like a girl on the phone to being mothered by a kindly teacher in a way she would not have done with other boys his age. Manan is as good-natured about these slights as a teenager in his shoes can be, a facet of his personality that only makes a reader more sympathetic to his plight. For readers who grew up in the nineties, the story provides an additional jolt of nostalgia with its references to Windows screensavers, Chinese pens, and wrestling icons.

While Manan works perfectly well as a coming of age tale, and that is how I first approached it, a recent rereading exposed the commentary on masculinity that undergirds the story and makes it particularly timely for today’s world. Manan is a sensitive and sensible individual, an anti-thesis to the conventional norms of brutish masculinity paraded by the boys around him. As the story ends, one cannot help but hope he retains these qualities instead of sacrificing them at the altar of conformity when puberty finally embraces him.

Note: Recess is an excerpt from Mohit Parkih’s debut novel MananFor readers who were charmed by the story, this reviewer would definitely recommend reading the book.

Reviewer Ajay Patri's 'Enrolment' appeared in Out of Print, March 2016 and his 'Shifting Lives' was one of the winning stories in the 2014 DNA-Out of Print Short Fiction Special.