To open author Aruni Kashyap’s book His Father’s Disease is to find your way into a wonderland of 10 long short stories. Do not for a moment believe they are simple. Before you know it, the author takes you gently by the hand to the Northeast, to Assam, where the great tropical rainforest that begins from the foothills of the Himalaya and tapers off to the very tip of the Malaysian peninsula, lies.
There is the ‘Skylark Girl’ where Kashyap has his readers meet the Assamese writer Sanjib who happens to be at a conference in Delhi. He evokes the magical fable of ‘Tejimola’, the girl who sprouted leaves. But Lutyens’ English-speaking chatterati cannot figure out why this writer-fellow from Assam cannot stick to the familial. Why can’t he just stick to the well-worn wheel-ruts of insurgency and its resultant travails.
Perhaps he should have written about the things that people are used to. But much has changed, even as things remain the same.
There’s the girl who is murdered and buried but returns again and again from her grave, this time turned into a ghost creeper. One last time, the scheming stepmother chops down the offending creeper but ‘the seeds of the gourd plant flew around… there were 459 large gourds, 92 immature ones and 3,045 flowers’. Furtively, she buries the shredded mess in a corner of the garden. Out of that heap grows a reddish elephant lime. But when the village boys pluck the limes, the tree begins to sing: ‘Tejimola is back’. Authors all over the Northeast have used this story; for example, there’s a Mizo writer who begins this story the day the Indian Air Force bombed its own people in the state of Mizoram. In this tale, Tejimola is a trapped skylark in a cage before the spell is broken.
Or take ‘Before the Bullet’, which reveals the heartlessness of that fiery piece of lead that has your name written on it. An America-return desi is heading home on a bicycle, unaware that all men must dismount as they walk past an army camp. He does not get off his bicycle. That’s enough to enrage the troopers to press the trigger. It seems so easy in a place brutalised by violence.
Then there is ‘The Umricans’ that takes you on a trip into the lonesome lives of those who leave behind the snugness of home for foreign forelorn shores. The urge to break out is great.Watch out for this new voice from a lesser known corner of our country.