Monday, 13 September 2010
HOSTEL ANECDOTES - A CLOSET FULL OF OPEN SECRETS
Upon a premier preview……………….
Well, I consider myself one of the lucky few to have gone through the short story captioned as above, written none other than an MSian of consequence, Virat Nehru. A premier preview before the publication is a privilege by itself! But at the very outset, I may confess that I am not much of an on-line reader, though I take pride in being quite a site-marauder these days. However, if given a choice between an “ink & quill” paginated version and an electronic one, I’d definitely choose the former. But having said so, let me also record the fact that I finished reading the story at one go along with the Foreword and the section dedicated to the Indian Readers, which given my fidgety self, is quite something.
Before delving into the subtle nuances of the write, let me assuage the writer’s doubts about the softer sensibilities of Indian Readers. I take pride in proclaiming that the Indian Readers have also “come of age” and no more take shelter in Victorian camouflage. Globalization has its own advantages and disadvantages and one of its aftermaths, nay, consequence, is embracing the “openness” of the West with such gusto that the latter may now be put to shame of backwardness. This I announce purposely because the afterword for Indian Readers seems to have been writ in an apologetic and explanatory veneer which need not be necessary. Of course the writer knows best.
Much has already been clarified by the writer in his Reflection Statement about the background, construct and thematic concept of the story and any comment thereof would either be an over-statement or an unnecessary repetition or expansion of the same. I’d only attach the views and feelings of a layperson to this review – the thoughts that came to my mind and emotions that I experienced while going through the story.
The Story Line - This is a story of a child who comes to term with his own self, his physical disability and prejudices of society in accepting his incapacities. A child, suffering from cerebral palsy, who is sent off to Boarding School (Scindia School, Gwalior) , to get over his inability to mingle in society, his closeted life of a bookworm and the growing obese proportions due to lack of physical agility. Here, I may say, I fully empathize with the protagonist, as I , myself was the most grudging school-goer of my time, not because of any physical handicap but of a more endangering mental disability to mix with people. A psycho-analysis may trace my site-addictions back to this inability to inter mingle with my peers and the comfort that I feel in “deliberately distanced” social exchange at times facilitated more by a degree of anonymity. So, it did not take time for me to find myself in the child who struggles for survival under the austere conditions of hostel life (some of my colleagues hail it as the best period of their lives), his initial opposition to all that it symbolizes, his gradual initiation into and final acceptance of the scheme of things.
The Essence Of The Story - To put it succinctly, it’s a “man story”. There is nothing to enchant or attract the interest of female readers but nevertheless it does because there is a kind of universality in the essence of the storyline - a subtle narration (though as per the author he’d prefer a more refined version), an undisrupted flow which took me back to my Enid Blyton gorging days and more recently J.K. Rowling, though many chastise my inclination towards children’s literature. Yes, the story did at times remind of “3 Idiots” more so may be because the movie is the most contemporary and strong statement on our education system - a celluloid text of the same genre as the short story is. One may also draw some sort of parallel to a Chetan Bhagat story but Virat’s calligraphy is more finely tuned and elevated in stature, the influence of classical and modern thinkers being prominent on the writing style, as confirmed by the writer himself. Further, the narration is not cluttered by too many incidents.
The Writing Skill& Narration - Superlative contemplations juxtaposed with crafty writing skill can be a dangerously powerful weapon. The chapters end as though in provocative mid sentences like a swish of a painter’s brush to grip the readers’ minds left salivating for more. The narration or the flow has a cascading pattern as though a tributary is galloping down the rocky inclines and finally loosing identity into the bigger water bodies. Though the writer has chosen the medium of short story, the ethos of the story transcends the narrow confines of its character and his predicament and takes the shape of a broader statement of human evolution from the stage of infantile naivety to cynicism and astuteness of adulthood – a process natural to mankind tampered merely by personalized ordeals.
Language & Descriptive Style - At times, I was taken aback by the unique mix of American colloquial and classic English. Some of the depictions are so terse and apt that they take ones breath away, especially, those who rely heavily on language rather than incidents to explore and express the intricacies of human emotions. The phrases like ‘phenomenon of bathing” to describe the closed door adventure & “unspeakably wicked” to highlight the curse of a physical disability speak volumes without being verbose. “The questions never stopped like a tap leaking because of a bad washer” is packed with dark humour and can be an unequivocal allusion to the pathological snoopiness of idle, inquisitive minds about anything which does not conform to the society’s norms of “normalcy”. “In this wide paddock, the herd disintegrated and could now be found in small patches of grass’, to describe the first impression of a child of his school premise, seems an adult expression for juvenile thought. “Few can stand mediocrity and most can’t stand success” is again a hard punch on the face. Further, the description of day to day hostel life, the comfort of the child when he sees that the school building has an "overly -used " facade, the end when a transitioned protagonist gives in to " This will have to do… for now”, ..............and countless such other make it an extremely engrossing read, especially, for those who find solace in word portrayal. It would also be euphemistic to say that the story is a satirist's delight. There is satire, there is humour, there is pathos, there is an endlessness to the story which transports it to a higher level.
Characterization& Story Telling- But the best is the finely worded derisive caricature of Mr. Pennsylvania and a very bold attempt indeed since the publication is for the Western Readers. The utter disregard for an NRI and his contemptuous treatment as the “Other” in the hostel dominated by Indian mentality may be a point of surprise for the West. On the contrary, the generalization on Indian aspiration of settling abroad may be a little farfetched if not completely untrue. The story is autobiographical and a capture of an innocent mind of his surroundings. The story telling is on one hand simple and involved and on the other aloof as that by a detached spectator. The awestruck son and a distanced father relationship is I believe part of and natural to growing up.
Highlights - Since, I am constrained not to divulge too much about the story as it is in the pre-publication stage, I’d briefly discuss the milestones without going into too many details. The highlight of the story is the coming of age or “transition” of the child into adulthood penned with a macabre but at the same time sensibly ordinary (read understated) twist (which does not jar with the flow of the narrate). This foretells the power and promise of the author in days to come. As I have earlier said, the flow though uninterrupted, has much unsaid. One has to read more between the lines to absorb the full import of narration and descriptions which in itself is a very enriching experience as it leaves much scope and gives leverage to the readers in terms of interpretive liberty. By which I mean that there is no "definitiveness of a grand finale" in the conclusion of the narrative. The ethos lingers on and hangs over the reader like a pall of smoke in mid air. The climax though conclusive can imbibe several meanings depending on the fertility of readers’ mind which definitely is an indication of the caliber of the writer. However, there is a veiled bitterness, a cloaked wistfulness, threading the tale, which I am afraid, can be a figment of my imagination also. The endeavour of the author to showcase and uphold Indian values and faith in family system is commendable.
A highly recommended read not because it is woven by a fellow MSian but because it boasts of superb craftsmanship coupled with powerful writing skill and sovereignty of thoughts, inspired yes, but in no way partial to influences.
However, the short story is basically targeted for Australian publication and will only be available in private circulation (along with the Reflection Statement and the Afterword for better appreciation) in India, for which you may get in touch with the writer by e-mail.