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Engulfing Sand

Gagan Gill

By Ashokamitran Translated by N. Kalyan Raman and Gomathi Narayanan
Orient Longman, New Delhi, 2004, pp. 210 & 47, Rs. 210.00 and 11.00 respectively


Ashokamitran is among the few masters of modern Indian literature who need to be read for the sheer pleasure of their facility with language. For long this writer had believed, enthralled as she was by his short novel Seventeenth Parallel—about Nizam’s Hyderabad through the eyes of a teenage boy—that here was an excellent teller of drama of the absurd. The novel set in the tumultuous political time around Independence when Hyderabad was forcibly merged in the Indian Union, abounded in hilarious situations. It still feels implausible that the subject of Partition could be dealt with in such an ingenuous way. But therein lies the genius of Ashokmitran. He can tread the thin line between humour and pathos with great dexterity.   Ashokamitran’s books at hand—Sand and Other Stories and My Years with Boss at Gemini Studios carry the customary charm one has come to associate with his writing. The fact that he writes primarily in Tamil only heightens the exotic aura of his landscape. Separated by a vast subcontinent’s geographical and lingual remoteness, his short stories essentially underline what goes into the making of (common) Indian literature. The same old cultural nuances are at work here, similar taboos embossing the behavioural pattern of its people. Modernity is somewhere in the background and protagonists are ever baffled—both by tradition and modernity.   That Ashokamitran has an equal flair when it comes to narrating inner lives, especially of women protagonists, is a refreshing encounter. There are three short stories—‘Sand’, ‘Malati’ and ‘Those Two’—presented in this slim volume. Irrespective of their individual circumstances, his narrative constantly pans the ever shrinking (personal) space of woman. Ashokamitran chooses to tell his stories as they happen in the thick of things, avoiding all comment. In the three stories presented in this collection, here is the grim, glum, stifling world of women in typical middle class Indian situations. Subtle is his bias, his politics is his narration. Feminists should be happy that here is a first-rate writer in league with their cause.   In ‘Sand’ the title story, at heart is a young girl Sarojini, good at studies despite the chaotic uncongenial conditions at home. It is a world forever quaking. Surrounded by a pampered big brother, a self-centered second brother, an orthodox demanding father, a highly disorganized visiting sister accompanied by young children—it is this youthful protagonist and her ...

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