Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Premise: 'Chennai Summer' by Natasha Gayari, reviewed by Michelle D'costa

Chennai Summer by Natasha Gayari
Reviewed by Michelle D’costa

The title signifies the loss of control we have over seasons. 'Chennai' makes it specific and memorable to the narrator. She knows it is not here to stay and will change soon, out of her control.

Natasha's story has two characters, a guy and a girl. It is narrated from the girl's point of view. What the writer conveys through this story about relationships, identity, conversation, acceptance, denial etc. is thought- provoking. In the simplest of language, she conveys so much. The story begins as a conversation she is having with her boyfriend. Inserted amidst the bits of dialogues on the phone, Natasha gives us background info on their relationship. What is it? Can you categorise their relation? Is it love? When is it casual? When is it serious?

Her boyfriend was with her in Bangalore and is now in Chennai. Before leaving, he confessed that he loves her, and it surprised her. The girl remembers her past relationships when she was 'crazy in love'. Here are a few lines from the story:

‘I have set off on such trips before, years ago, I don’t remember exactly how many. Booked a plane ticket that had cost me half of my salary from my first job to meet a guy across the country. They don’t take up much space in my memory now. My heart was in a frenzy throughout the flight. The date of that journey had become my default password to many of my login ids, until I changed all of them a couple of years later.’

Now, the girl is realistic and wary of a possibility with her present partner. She wonders if his parents would accept her, she imagines visiting Chennai, but we know that she's not as invested in the relationship as he is. By the end the reader knows that the girl doesn't see a future  with the guy as he's going to leave for the US.

She is in a low phase in her life, bored with her job and knows the relationship will end soon but can't end it. This feeling of helplessness, not able to change things or do anything about it leaves the reader feeling they can relate and empathise with the narrator. A wonderful story. Highly recommend.

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.

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.