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.