In the fast paced life of these days, it is getting more and more difficult to devote time for literature. Under such circumstances, short stories come to our rescue, and by their peculiar format, provide us means to stay in touch with literature, and satiate our aesthetic and intellectual needs. The advantages brought by short stories are two fold. First, there is a sense of achievement as we can complete reading each piece in whatever time is available to us. Secondly, just in case the work is not up to our expectations, the time and effort lost would be less as compared to that in the case of novels. These are some of the reasons why I am attracted towards short stories in different languages, and from different cultures.
For the last one month, I have been busy reading the short story collection The White Marble Burzi And Other Stories by Sharat Kumar. The collection examines life and human relationships in the modern day society through narratives. Although the setting of each story is different, almost all of them try to address the complications, loneliness, vacuum and loss of direction that we experience time and again. The subject is comparatively new and has been addressed by several writers in recent years, and definitely would grow in the decades to come. It should be noted that the problems faced by the present generation are peculiar and have no precedent; hence the previous generations are unable to comprehend them or to offer any solution. Hence, all this constant groping in the dark, searching for an answer, all on our own. The only companion that we have is our own inner self, which is perhaps equally lonely and confused.
“Sometimes, in spite of the hustle and bustle of this big city, I feel myself enveloped by a sense of vacuum. But I have to write my books and finish my work.”
As a book, the work is exceptional. However, as a short story book, I did not find it interesting. Short stories are written here in the format of a novel. A short story writer has very less time and space, so needs to catch and hold the attention and interest of the reader as quickly as possible. The White Marble Burzi . . . could not do that; gone 5-6 pages into a story, and you are still reading about moon, river, trees, her eyes, and so on. Only the reader, who has read Kumar’s earlier works and is already a fan and admirer of his writings, would have that much patience.
The mood of nearly all stories is dull, gloomy and depressing. The stories themselves are not sad or disturbing. In fact, they fail to raise any emotion in you — neither joy nor sorrow. Instead, while reading these stories you would feel as if all energy is being sucked out of your nerves. Irrespective of the age of the protagonist, the language and tone of the narratives are that of an introvert middle-aged man who frequently tends to delve into his memories and analyzes all his past and present relationships. There is neither the innocent passion of youthful years, nor the forgive-all-and-cherish-it of old age. At the most, the work could be called a diary, with the narratives used as a medium through which thoughts travel:
“I would like to leave behind the knowledge which I have gathered in the last thirty or forty years of my life by documenting it in an orderly manner.”
If you love solitude and are comfortable talking with yourself — in night, below stars, or by a river, or lying in your bed while going to sleep — the book is full of contemplative thoughts that you would enjoy. The reflections, mostly written in the form of questions that we love to ask ourselves, are excellent to start a conversation with yourself and may provide fodder and food to your mind and soul. An example:
“People remain as you want them to be. They are dead when they are alive. And still living when you cannot touch them any more.”
But as short story . . . well . . .
Few additional points need to be mentioned about the title story The White Marble Burzi, which is also the first story of the book. Being the title story, the expectations of the reader are high, and being the first story it gives an idea to the reader about what to expect on the next hundred pages. It certainly has to be a masterpiece, there cannot be any excuse. However, I found this particular story lacking in certain aspects. The weakest point of this narrative is its sentence structure. Some of the sentences are long, very long, very very long. In fact, they so long that by the time you reach the full stop, you’d have forgotten how the sentence had started, and would need to read it all over again! Second problem is that too much information is crammed into each sentence, most of which is unnecessary and could have been deleted, or at least could have been dedicated a separate sentence. Due to this verbal aerobics, sentences appear to be artificially connected with obvious joints. Clearly, the writer has made too much effort to make every sentence beautiful. However, the story as a whole could have been polished and checked for flow. Fortunately, other stories of the book are free from this problem.
Short stories do present a lot of scope for experiment, and writers have been able to pursue traditional methods as well as introduce new styles. We have heard King-Queen-happy-ending stories, fairy tales, and moral stories. We have also read Saki’s stories with surprise endings, Chekhov’s stories without any ending, and Sunil Gangopadhyay’s stories without any plot. And here we are reading short stories without any story! To understand what that means, imagine for a moment that your wife has planned a special dinner for you two. You and your wife are dressed up nicely. She has cleaned the dining room, arranged the table, put flowers, placed plates, glasses, bowls, spoons, forks, everything properly on it. The whole table is looking elegant and orderly. The only thing missing is food. There is no food! You’d get the same feeling after reading this book. There are birds chirping, wind blowing, river flowing, beautiful sunrise, calm sunset, silent night, he, she, they, everything. But only that. Nothing beyond that. There is no story. So you feel fooled and disappointed. And very very annoyed.
The plus point of the book is its beautiful cover design, clear and smooth fonts, and an elegant formatting. The publisher has indeed done a good job in making the work presentable. However, a more thorough proof-reading was required. Typographical error, especially when it appears in a title, and that too at the beginning of the book, certainly dampens the spirits of an enthusiastic reader. Hope the future editions of the book would be free of such errors.
Author: Sharat Kumar
Publisher: LG Publishers Distributors