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Muscles of Imagination and Fantasy

A.J. Thomas

By Vilas Sarang
Penguin, Delhi, 2006, pp. 283, Rs. 275.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 12 December 2006

Vilas Sarang reminds me of O.V. Vijayan of Malayalam, although, unlike Vijayan, he is a poet, apart from being a fiction writer and critic who writes in Marathi and in English. Vijayan’s stories of the modernist period were mostly allegories, parables, stories with a sort of cast-iron frame into which human situations or predicaments were set, as if following some kind of predestined design. The modernists are well-known for their philosophical predilections, notably confined to certain schools of the West. The influence of the French Existentialists and Latin American writers like Borges was manifest in the works of the modernists of several major Indian languages during the 1960s and 70s. Looking back, one remembers that the modernists rejected everyday realities of life and tried to grasp the symbolic and emotional essence of things. They attempted to give expression to this essence by employing images, archetypes and myths. These constituted the internal structure of the story. Organic development of the story is conspicuously absent in such works. Even in the scatological excesses of certain stories, Vilas Sarang uncannily resembles Vijayan. Whereas Vijayan grew out of this stage into writing his famous stories like ‘After the Hanging’, ‘The Story the Wind Told’ and others with a human touch, most of Vilas Sarang’s stories in the present collection remain in such frames. These stories are seemingly devoid of empathy. It looks like a deliberate ploy employed by the writer to make the stories starker, to turn them into scalpels to perform surgery on the moribund body of society. However, it is to be noted here that the short story, generally, has moved from such cages of stiff form and staid content to vibrant, lyrical, narrative entities, after the grip of modernism loosened gradually, from the early 1980s, in most of the major regional literatures of India. The observation made by Dom Moraes that Vilas Sarang is ‘one of the finest Indian writers of his time’ acquires special significance in this context.   The stories in the present volume are those from his debut collection Fair Tree of the Void that came out in 1990 plus six hitherto uncollected stories, making up a total of twenty-six. They have been reworked and regrouped into five sections—‘The City by the Sea’, ‘Libido Zones’, ‘Small Creatures’, ‘The Shadow of the Gulag’ and ‘Visions of Nirvana’. The author states that while a few of these stories ...

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