Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. Musings from someone who sees stories everywhere.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Moisture Trapped in a Stone, Book Review

MOISTURE TRAPPED IN A STONE: An Anthology of Modern Telugu Short Stories
Translated from the Telugu by K.N.Rao      Thornbird/Niyogi Books         Rs..595/- 

This is a richly varied collection of 29 stories translated from Telugu. Social issues predominate in many of these stories. There are some twist-in the-tale stories, tales of expatriates chasing the American dream, and a couple of love stories, too. It's like a box of assorted chocolates. Each story has a different tone and flavour, and you don't know what will come next. All the stories will not appeal to every reader, but there's something in this collection for everyone.
The Citadel in Disrepair by Kethu Viswanatha Reddy struck me with its effective treatment of the themes of grief, loss of a son, and the senseless destruction resulting from the Naxalite movement. Jasmine on a Lattice by Kolipaka Ramamani is a beautiful story with heart-rending emotions skilfully portrayed through an exchange of letters.
Some of the stories are on contemporary themes in the urban Indian context, bringing out the intricacies of human relationships. D Kameswari's Bumblebee is a strong and nuanced story about the contemporary reality of adultery. Vasundhara's Yet Another Love Story is an interesting take on the relationship of an elderly couple who seem to endlessly bicker and complain on the surface. Yet when their son decides to take his mother along with him to the big city to give her some peace and rest, the mother begins to miss her husband. The husband too longs for her companionship and comes to the city to take her home. J Ramalakshmi's Outsourcing is a witty take on today's commercial reality. Mohammed Khadeer Babu's The Cover effectively portrays the communal tensions flowing as an undercurrent beneath the apparently placid social fabric of city life.
The impact of foreign culture on home-grown visitors from the hinterland is the theme of several stories. Madhurantakam Rajaram's Galiveedu to New York depicts an elderly landlord used to a culture of feuds, rivalries and murderous attacks on opponents. On a visit to his son in America, he sees how "these boys had no use for terrorism and stories of vengeance… Bomb bursts, murders in broad daylight, rivers of blood, setting fire to homes and such other acts do not seem to drive them to action. Then what do they want to know from him?"
Madhurantakam Rajaram's The Homing Pigeon is a beautiful and nuanced story. Young Ravi comes from America to search for grandparents he has never met, who live in an obscure village too insignificant to merit even a bus stop. The hinterland, with its beauty as well as festering social injustices, is portrayed effectively in many of these stories.
Madhurantakam Rajaram's Moisture Trapped in a Stone is a deliciously complex story with lovely stylistic flourishes. "Time wrought other changes too, bringing to the town a character of diversity. Men, dark-skinned, looking like the trunk of a babul tree which grown unmindful of the hot sun, the inconvenience of dust storms and the sewage waters that lash them and having lashed, flow past them as if they made a mistake initially; men who do not have memories of days gone by…"
B Geetika's Misappropriated Moonlight is about a government official whose work involves the welfare of backward tribes. She arrives from the big city wondering: "These men in the forest, how do we wake them up? They seem totally ignorant of the world… How can we let them grow wise to issues like nutritious food, family planning etc.?" As she befriends Girija, a young tribal girl, the official gets emotionally involved and her attitude changes. She experiences firsthand the tragic plight of innocent forest people. "Girija is my friend, I'll use every resource at my command to save her. But what about the tribe as a whole? These fellows who pass for civilised men, are they any better than those animals in the forest?"
The variances in style and treatment differ from story to story. Several stories deal with social issues with a heavy hand. Her Very Own Rubicon by Vasundhara has the point/moral of the story spelled out a little too bluntly at the end.
"Now to questions that stare at me: here is a lady who lives a cocooned life, straitjacketed by the age old caste system. But she is also tender hearted, kind and considerate… She is a slave of the tradition into which she is born… but kind, loving, generous… One needs to understand such personalities properly."
Vasireddy Seetadevi's Darkness to Light ­ ­- A Journey to Nowhere is mainly a tedious and lengthy Q&A session on spiritual questions. The patient reader is rewarded at the end of this tedium with a heart-rending ending. Rentala Nageswara Rao's A Gift of Gingelly Seeds also has a lengthy Q&A section from page 29 to page 40. The topic is socialist revolution, the Naxalite movement etc.
The Case by Olga is yet another example of a story relying heavily on Q&A sessions on the theme of women's rights.
Overall, this collection is an interesting read which brings out the many facets of contemporary Telugu short stories.
This was published in Sunday Herald

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