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Fragile Anchors and Small Echoes

Madhu Joshi

By Arun Prakash
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2002, pp. 373, Rs. 350.00


Eight fragile human figures, an equally fragile boat, the churning sea in the background – the stark matte black cover with a blue tinted black and white photograph of everyday beach life, fisherman hauling their catch – is a telling picture of this collection of Arun Prakash’s short stories. Written over thirty years (the first story of the collection was written in 1971, the last one in 2002) they are all about bringing to the fore the daily struggle of the ignored, the overworked, the marginalized. These eminently readable stories are peopled by characters one comes across everyday but hasn’t had the time or the inclination to go into the details of their lives.   Prakash is essentially a miniaturist of the classical school. He creates his characters and the background against which they act out their existence in meticulous detail. The frame may look small, the scale of lives lived and its struggle certainly isn’t that. The figures he depicts are definitely not of heroes in the traditional mould. Not by the farthest stretch of imagination could one expect them to emerge victors (the lone exception being Sundari Maami of ‘Naa’), not in the contemporary scenario.   The flap of the book states “to conserve the main voices of the times is the responsibility of History, to preserve the smaller echoes that of literature”. The stories of Visham Raag do just that. These deceptively simple documentaries unveil complex forces exerting complicated pressures on men and women of a very here-and-now world. And also the witty, pro-existence responses of the protagonists. In ‘Uth Miss Tapna Katha’ the essential girl next door Narmada alias Nimmo is coerced into appearing on the stage in a swimsuit and thrown out of the uncle’s house as a consequence. Our heroine sees her chance to be rid of middle-class hypocrisy and pettiness once for all—riding the wave of her brief fame she starts her own fitness centre (with the prospect of developing into a “supplier of services” to the rich and powerful) and moves to a better locality. The moralists may well indulge in hair-tearing and chest beating over this “shameless surrender to market forces” but then aren’t market forces a reality of our times? Shouldn’t one find a way to combat them? After all we don’t know Casablanca beyond the burning ship. Do we? Nammy the erstwhile Narmada is then a case ...

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