Reviews

Eye for detail and nuances

E. Santhosh Kumar   | Photo Credit: Special arrangment

A collection of 13 stories by E. Santhosh Kumar, starkly titled Ente Priyappetta Kathakal leaves you breathless and yearning for more.

Combining the profound, the mundane and the anecdotal, they nevertheless carry a whiff of genius. It is not in grand chronicling but in modest details that Santhosh Kumar excels, each minor line adding another brush stroke of nuanced resonance to the story.

At times laconic and precise, at others loquacious and tangential, the stories weave a web of magic around everyday lives of ordinary mortals. And yet, it is characterisation that is his forte, painting his cast sometimes in vivid hues, sometimes in sombre black and faded grey, leaving the reader haunted by an array of unforgettable men and women, talking parrots, discerning dogs and birds of prey.

Paradoxically enough, it is not the people in the frame but the half obscured birds, beasts and humans outside it that this world derives its complex meanings from, through lives writ large in small strokes.

Natural imagery

The opening story on three blind men describing an elephant is an ensemble of sensations, an over acuteness of senses that work miracles in transforming the deep agitations of nature into an internal harmony.

The last story ‘Parunthu’ similarly uses animal imagery to infuse faded lives with a metaphysical vigour, pitching human solace in the marvellous and inexplicable world of nature. The ageing kite, born of the wind and the forest, yet stilled by its reflection in the water is the only succour for a mother who has lost her child to the violence of the world. The edge of the forest, the edge of both the madness of civilisation and the fury of the wild joins two different cosmic worlds, of realism and fantasy, of the dead and the living.

Eye for detail and nuances

Many of the stories describe the crisis imminent in the ageing institution of the family. With a poetic precision of language, ‘Mamsam’ reveals the spiritual, emotional and physical sterility at the core of modern stale conjugal relationships.

But it is the utter moral depravity, tyranny and violence unleashed by the rotting flesh of individuals frozen in decadent familial structures that come alive through Santhosh Kumar’s delicate story telling. On a similar vein another story ‘Chekka’ looks at the embryonic savagery that lies curled in the belly of each family.

Santhosh Kumar’s art is at its sensuous best in a story like ‘Chavukali’, deftly capturing a voice that yields a powerful meditation on the nature of evil and the brutality endemic to modern life. The realist tone and texture of the story unfold a grim world that is nevertheless captivating in its sharp satire and irony.

‘Sangadamochanathinu Oru Kaipusthakam’ explores the depth of depravities of the human heart while plumbing the hypocrisies of a crassly materialist publishing world. The underbelly of the printed word reveals the meaninglessness of language, while delicately bursting the myth of the author as the maker of meanings.

Of human sensibilities

‘Meenukal’ is striking in its verbal economy. With perfect control over timing, the story takes on an unexpected psychological dimension that leaves one ruminating on the ordinariness of horror in daily human life and our often unknowing routine trysts with the gory and the grotesque.

In ‘Prakashadooram’, one of the most finely crafted stories in the collection, Santhosh Kumar’s unhurried prose captures the paradoxes and poignancies of human relationships. Slowly, languidly, the light years between human sensibilities unfurl into a dramatic ending, a black hole of void which laughs at the fleeting colours of life, just like the blind heroine who wounds time and space with the light of her eyes.

In contrast, ‘Aadimoolam’ conjures up a dreamlike, surreal world, a sinuous spreading of green that connects the past and the future. The story has a riddle at its heart that slowly transforms into a parable. A naïve and dumb protagonist takes the unsuspecting reader on a slow journey to the primeval forests of origin through paths of oblivion criss-crossed by rivers of memory.

This collection is a rare flowering of contemporary Malayalam short story at its mature best, often eschewing carefully plotted tales for depth of characterisation. Many of these stories may have been published earlier but this anthology puts them together in a manner that highlights their careful stylistic effects.

Santhosh Kumar’s stark descriptive prose captures the dilemmas, depths and textures of contemporary Malayali life. He takes the short story to an exalted level and establishes it as a serious genre in the 21st century, one that continues to weave unique techniques, protocols of delineation and distinct stylistic aspects that reflect and ruminate over contemporary histories. The discerning reader will drink deeply from this intoxicating spin of tales and surrender oneself to their meditative beauty.

A fortnightly column on the best of fiction in Malayalam literature. The writer is Director, Centre for Cultural Studies, University of Kerala

Ente Priyappetta Kathakal

DC Books

Rs.185


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Printable version | Jul 28, 2021 10:15:16 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/books-reviews/review-of-e-santhosh-kumars-short-story-collection/article24262773.ece

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