Book Review: Fiction/ The House with a Thousand Stories by Aruni Kashyap, Penguin, p.226; Rs399
Aruni is among those few, who practically objected the stereotypical portrayal of northeast as a ‘subject matter’. These seven states, otherwise, are far too diversified to be approached with narrowly preoccupied views. But from the ‘mainland’, any attempt of correction remained elusive so far, alas!
The House with a Thousand Stories is set in the backdrop of turbulent Assam, especially on the killing years in the late 1990s-early 2000s. Politically conscious albeit modestly judgmental, Aruni weaves many stories into a complex fold that intricately separates the soft notions from real tragedies in action. The novel is basically plotted in Guwahati and Mayong—or alternatively, between the ‘land of bad politics and black magic’.
The story moves around young Pablo—a city boy who has mostly lived a sheltered and privileged life in Guwahati. He visits his ancestral village for his aunt’s wedding—exactly like an ‘absentee native’ in rural hinterlands. As the wedding formalities advances, Pablo gets him into low comfort by squabbling aunts, dying grandmothers, cousins planning to elope for love or lust, and endless gossips. Amidst the flurry of rituals and aspiration, also looms large the dark shadow of insurgency and brutal counter action of state.
In patches, still ‘normalcy’ attends the scene of wedding home—more or less, as ‘hope’ comes in the minds of conflict sufferer. The marriage here ends in grave tragedy—Pablo finds and loses his first love, and he sees his family surrounded with boundless troubles. But as can be expected, life goes on—few survive with memories and rest others perishes by the harsh knock of unforgiving time.
Pablo is a thinking protagonist, who too is a sufferer, but under the different circumstances. Hence he looks on the wider upturn of the events and recalls ‘short-lived moments’, as and when he grips with the load of nostalgia or finds him in particular acquaintances. Yet he is firm to go ahead but without ever ceasing to be perplexed with the closest surrounding, fated abnormal.
Here, the chaos is multidimensional and touches personal as well as the collective spheres—so the stories are in thousands, though unlikely they would make much impact outside the ground zeroed, for such sad theatrics. As stories are the accounts of unrelenting grief, so these are not enough convincing for ‘power consuming minds& souls’. The thousands stories, thus, are buried in the insensible disconnect of ‘mainland and conflict land’. The deafness is too high all around and this is a chronic issue, to be dealt with ‘precision and resistance’.
Sincere in narration and evidently without lack of insights, this debutant novelist has justified his keen orientation on his milieu. He breaks the monotony in literatures on Assam and offers the world, a fresh perspective to look on this unusual part of the east. This state has been in tussle with its existential paradigms—however, the recent years have witnessed some alteration in old discourse.
The insurgencies, falsified by insurgents and political animals with no sense of practical politics, have come timid with good effects. Technically, this is the hibernation phase for reactionaries—but people at large are not a happy lot. The exploitation of resources and political guided turf of migration inside the state, is still not allowing fairness to be effectively grounded. Indifference with the pathetic situation is still a ‘mainstream culture’—hardly anything could be more agreeable than this.
Even today, the violence of different sorts is not letting Assam to live its potential. Next to the plundering of natural resources, insurgencies and political downplays, now Assam is grappling with the ‘arrival of easy money’, heavily involved in real estate and various shady businesses. In all probability, the rise of these unhygienic elements would be called an ‘entrepreneurial upsurge’—but in actual, that would be the height of ‘absurd hypotheses’.
In the beautiful first hand narrative of Pablo, The House with a Thousand Stories recounts many crucial issues in broader frameworks. Aruni, restless with pen has immense potential to be in the league of front running fiction writers—however, with his first book, he must be known as a remarkable writer of his generation. Of late, Assam has now its own bilingual chronicler
-Atul K Thakur
(Published in The Kashmir Walla,January,2014)