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His Father’s Disease

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ARUNI KASHYAP | Westland Publications Pvt Ltd | Pages 176 | Hard cover | Rs 499

By GANESH SAILI

To open author Aruni Kashyap’s book His Father’s Disease is to find your way into an amazing wonderland of ten long stories stories. Do not for a moment believe they are simple tales. Before you know it, the author takes you gently to the Northeast – with its great tropical rainforest beginning from the foothills of the Himalaya to taper off to the very tip of the Malaysian peninsula.

Whatever happened to lives that are lived straight out of a fairy tales in a land wrapped with misty-mountains, magical groves, lush green valleys, snow-capped peaks, gurgling streams and gushing waterfalls.

There is Arunachal for instance – our own Land of the Rising Sun – spread over 78,000 square miles, home to fifty-three tribes speakingover fifty languages. There are the Noctes, the Khamptis, the Adis Cover of HIS FATHER_S DISEASE Each sunset is but the resetting of the day after Magnolia blossoms and the Apa—Tanis, who have had a rude awakening of sorts, pole-vaulting as it were in a single lifetime from the Stone Age to the Sputnik.

In his short story the Skylark Girl, Kashyap has the readers meet the Assamese writer Sanjib who whilst at a conference in Delhi, evokes the magical fable of Tejimola, the girl who sprouted leaves.

‘What the heck is this writer from Assam trying to do?’ Wonders Delhi’s English speaking crowd. They fail to understand why one cannot stick to the familial fable or the well- worn wheel-ruts of rebellion, insurgency and its resultant travails? Why can’t you stick to the clichéd image of thin farmers with Mongolian features walking across the horizon to the local haat with a long bamboo pole balancing cane baskets filled with his farm produce?

Why don’t writers stick to the known, to the more known? Or is it that the more things change, the more they tend to remain the same? You have this girl who has been murdered, buried and forgotten. Yet she returns, again and again,from her grave, only this time reincarnated as a ghost creeper! In a frenzy, what she thinks is one last time, the scheming stepmother chops down the offending creeper but ‘the seeds of the gourd plant flew around… there were four hundred and fifty-nine large gourds, ninety- two immature ones and three thousand and forty-five flowers.’ Furtively she buries the shredded mess in a corner of the garden. Out of that heap springs a reddish elephant lime. But when the village boys pluck the limes, the tree begins to sing: ‘Tejimola is back.’

Does all this sound familiar? Well! You are not off the mark. Down the ages, the day the Indian Air Force for the first (and hopefully the last time) declared war on its own people and bombed Mizoram. In his tale, Tejimola end up trapped as a 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 scribbled on it. An America-returned Desi is heading home on a bicycle, unaware that it is compulsory for all men living in the area to dismount as they walk past an encampment. He does not get off his bicycle That’s enough to enrage the troopers and they press the trigger. The deed is done. And its all too easy to get away that it. For violence, we are told brutalizes everything that comes in its path.

Then there is The Umricans that transports you to the lonesome lives of those who prefer to leave behind the ‘snug- as-a-bug’ comfort of home and hearth to chase mirages of lucre in foreign shores.For soon after as the darkness creeps closer, you find them returning to the familiar yelping:‘There is no place like home. East- West home’s best!’ Aruni Kashyap comes through as a gentle voice from a lesser-familiar part the country.