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Documenting Ordinary Lives


Madhu Gurtu

FIREFLIES IN THE DARK; LOOKING IN, LOOKING OUT
By Annie Chandy Mathew ; P. Chandy Mathew
Unisun Publications, Bangalore, 2004, pp. 260; pp. 250, Rs. 250.00 each

VOLUME XXIX NUMBER 1 January 2005

The books under review are two collections of short stories by wife and husband Annie Chandy Mathew and P.Chandy Mathew—their first creative efforts. As writers they acknowledge their debt to each other as their lives enrich each other’s ‘story’, yet their short stories need to be looked at as independent works (even though both the collections are imbued with a yearning for basic human values which will restore some order to the chaos of divisive voices, warring interests and frenzied passions.   Fireflies in the Dark is a collection of 23 stories showing contemporary squalour, religious bigotry, creeping intolerance, hypocrisy, insensitivity that corrode human values and human relations. At times a brutal portrayal of senseless cruelty—even perversion—perpetrated in the name of saving one’s religion from desecration and defilement, some stories (e.g. Just a Day like Any Other, Never Tell a Lie, My Son, My Son) depict the macabre savagery humans are driven to when communal passions are whipped up. The writer does not hint at the forces behind the mayhem nor does she analyse the causes, which have brought about this situation; Annie Mathew with the narrator’s distance unfolds the story of the re-emergence of the beast. Sometimes the brutal deed is only hinted at like a piercing cry (‘“Please, please…,” was all that Murg managed to say’ in Just a Day…), sometimes the gory details of a rape and murder while the son is made to be a mute and helpless witness are presented as in ‘My Son, My Son’, which shocks one into disbelief and dismay and forces one to think if we have forgotten to be human in the name of practising our religion. In all these narratives, what enlivens the bleakness is the bonding between the children who stand by each other building a bridge of affection and understanding across the irrational hatred of the adults. Belonging to Hindu or Muslim or Christian communities has not yet corrupted their innocent minds. They are the fireflies in the dark.   The writer has explored in these stories different layers of darkness that envelop human lives in different ways, be it the dogma of religious belief overshadowing all other considerations, or the dominance of male ego of an impotent husband, or the fire of greed consuming a human life, or the dehumanizing system of a feudal house, or the ‘veil’ of gender discrimination, ...


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