The average reader is perhaps unaware that being published is a privilege not quite equitably distributed. That Vasudhendra belongs to the mainstream is a testament to his calibre as a writer—for one, he writes in Kannada and then, he writes openly and crucially about the gay experience in today’s India. Defiance of the great Indian tradition of pretending that alternate sexuality doesn’t exist, puts Vasudhendra at the forefront of authors making an immeasurable impact on our social fabric. Speaking from real-life experiences for himself and the marginalised LGBTQ community, the author has in the past championed the lives and lusts of the differently-oriented.
What makes his stories unforgettable is the smell of the soil of Karnataka; nuances and minutiae so much a way of life here. Though it is not quite evident in translation, the author often uses colloquial forms of Kannada, not the high register of elite culture, but Dalit or folk versions such as the street usage variants from Bellary, Hospete, Chamarajanagar or Mysore.
His new book, The Unforgiving City and Other Stories, culls memorable stories from anthologies and functions as a compendium. To access the literary world of the software engineer-turned-author and publisher, there can be no better starter-kit. In essence a philosopher and social commentator, he dives beneath the surface to re-evaluate religious and social mores through the trajectory of his characters’ lives. The stories delineate the rapid decay in values and social justice from mindlessly embracing urban living and change. Specifically, the degeneration of the Kannada way of life––the cuisine, the customs and, most importantly, the humanity it once fearlessly embodied.
At the culmination of most of Vasudhendra’s stories is something horrific––a tiny or elaborate avoidable tragedy. Beginning the story in happier times, the author sets about tracing the events that unfold until this sad flashpoint. Protagonists are etched deftly in terms of their almost biodata-like achievements. Much like all master storytellers, quaint minor characters are woven in too against the background tapestry of a Karnataka not often accessible to the outsider in terms of the landscape or edible greens.
The degenerate city often plays villain. There is perhaps the over-romanticised view of the village as innocent, pure and deeply ethical that the transit to the city methodically erodes. As a device, this may not always work for urban audiences, this stark dichotomy.The detailed writing presents a compendium of all things to be proud of in Kannada culture––festivals, food, music, the universal human experiences couched still within the flora and fauna of a proud state.
The Unforgivable City and Other Stories