Sunday, December 24, 2017

A Faceless Evening and Other Stories - Ramachandra Gadgil in Marathi, Translated by Keerti Ramachandra

Gangadhar Gadgil has written hundreds of short stories in Marathi. 'A Faceless Evening' selects fourteen of his stories translated into English by one of India's better known translators, Keerti Ramachandra. The one thing that struck me most was that the stories are written in different styles - there is no one style you can point out and say this is his. And then, the author's deep understanding of human nature and its madnesses and limitations stands out. Not since DH Lawrence got it into my head that love and hate are present in the same measure in any relationship did another writer convey the same. And it is Gangadhar Gadgil's eye for detail that gets you - one gesture, one thought and it explains it all. There are so many of those fine thoughts that I could not help wondering that he must have written them all down and filed them. Keerti Ramachandra captures stories that must have been hard to translate because they are such subtle and internal stories that say one thing and mean so much more.
Ratna Sagar Publishers, Rs. 299

In 'Thirst' the author's uncanny ability to see through a complex relationship stands out clearly - the ageing actress and her husband, manager and lover - are stuck together in a loveless, exploitative relationship. Even more symbolically they are cooped up in a train that is traversing an arid land. She wants to break free but cannot. She enjoys the pain of her imprisonment and the pleasure in her helpless situation. How often are we happier being the victim? The human mind is masochistic and we know she will never sign her own release as she cosies up to her repulsive husband after a couple of drinks. In 'Bandu and his Umbrellas', Bandu keeps losing his umbrellas. But that is a backdrop to show his situation, his wife, his family, his likes and dislikes - explained so well through the stuff he finds in his loft. Bandu goes through the drama of buying himself new umbrellas or repairing old ones, gives away the new umbrella to the Christian girls, until the drama stops when he buys himself another new umbrella. That is when the monsoon stops for the year. Surely the story will repeat the next monsoon.

'A Man, A Fairy and a Tortoise', is about a fairy that flits past a tortoise, focussed on its own work at its own pace, a poor boy who cannot see beyond something to eat, a wealthy man who cannot see beyond accumulating more, a salaried man who cannot see beyond his pay scale, a leader who cannot see beyond the power of ruling over people. It's a unique story that takes an irreverent and narrow view of our lives - like we normally do. It makes sense from the fairies view point and it also appears that the tortoise has it all figured out. 'Bittersweet', is a classic story about the petty politics that go on in every household - the love and intimacy perfectly balanced by hatred and resentment - bittersweet. It's told in a lyrical, sunny voice and one gets the mischievous nature of the narrator, the daughter-in-law, that overrides everything, including an allegation of theft,

'A Faceless Evening', is about the facelessness of the Bombay city. The chasing of dreams, of entertainment, the loss of humanity in the midst of death, love, politics, Perhaps his distress at the urban life. 'Multiplication' is a wonderful story of the human mind and how it deceives itself. Petty school teacher Damu is jealous of Balasaheb, another teacher who seems to have everything that Damu does not have - integrity, money and a beautiful wife. In his dreams Damu sees himself doing Balasaheb many favours but in reality it is the other way around. But Damu sticks to the safety of his dreams despite his intense resentment of Balasaheb and so do his bunch of cronies.

'Before I go' is a touching tale of a dying mother talking to her older son first about her husband, the one she loved so much and whose memory was slowly fading away, her younger son, her grand daughter and its delicately told with so many beautiful moments. One such is the end when the older brother decides to take care of his younger brother in a climax to this finely built tale which suddenly gets poisoned with one word from the older son's wife who brings it all down a petty level. 'Vishwakarma and Sadanand', another finely woven tale of a clerk with an ordinary life, an ordinary wife and a disabled child. He cannot be faulted for feeling that he has been singled out for this punishment even more so when he visits his neighbour's beautiful and happy home one evening. He remembers being like that, wanting a life like that. Back home after that happy time he realises that his reality is back - his wife and child return from the temple - and he accepts them in an overflowing of love. They are his after all.

'My Ajji', is a brilliant story about the narrator recalling his days with his ajji who was the most patient, most loving and most trusting person in the world. Her traditions and customs, their little skirmishes and her ways of doing things without bothering others come across right till the very end when she is ill and he sees her tears, and when he says you will be ok, she smiles and says she is worried about him for not eating well in the hostel and not for herself. How often have we seen such selflessness! 'The Two', is an erotic story built up so beautifully. The narrator, single and older, is traveling with an old couple Mudaliar's and their young medico daughter Padma. Padma is full of life and mischief and keeps goading the driver to go faster or irreverently cuts into the older people's conversations. Things get interesting at the Mahabalipuram temple when she decides to flirt with the narrator and leaves him hanging like all erotic stories do with the promise of a kiss, if only...

'Our Teacher leaves School', is about the day when the bai is leaving school and how the young child saves up tamarind to give to her bai in appreciation. The way the young ones in class grow so fond of the kind bai shows when they all cry when they know she will not return, and the girl protagonist braves punishment to run out of class to give her tamarind to bai. Told in that disconnected way that a child thinks, its beautiful in its understanding of a child's nature. 'All for You', is another haunting tale of an old couple, the wife almost blind and the husband, quiet and introspective. It's been years since they had thrown their son and daughter-in-law out of their house for her disrespect of the father-in-law. But in advancing years the old lady wants her family around. The old man has made his peace but she has not and she puts them in situations which are not very pleasant and in the end justifies it saying its 'all for you'. Brilliant understanding of the dynamics of human relationships, more so between husband and wife. One can empathise with the old lady's dilemma - her self respect on one hand and her desire to be with her family and get their love, affection and respect on another.

'Gopal Padhye: The Man', is a suspicious, critical, lecherous fellow who lusts after women in the bazaar and occasionally gets hit by someone who sees through his moves. At home he exerts all the power he does not have on the women outside, on his wife. The man. Again a wonderful story that shows how a man's mind works. 'Fleeting Reflections', is the narrative of a man who is reflecting on his love story - again one of manipulation and love, hate and resentment. But it does end in hope and a tender beginning - his wife is pregnant and they are expecting their child now.

The playful manner in which the actress asks her husband not to beat her in front of that imaginary other woman, the grand child playing with her grand mother's hair in a caring manner, the 'decision' that the older son takes, the trembling fingers of a cancer ridden old lady, the way the child's thoughts move from an intense sadness and then back to the present the next...the storehouse of gestures, emotions and thoughts that Gangadhar Gadgil has collected makes each story come alive. Fabulous insights into people and relationships. Keerti Ramachandra brings these complex tales to life through her translation. I have no doubt that she did complete justice to the work having read her translation of Vishwas Patil's book into 'Dirge of the Damned' which is a wonderful work. This was probably even more difficult. I am so glad that they translated Gangadhar Gadgil's works into English so I could read them and enter a world I would not have known otherwise.


Rajendra said...

Will see if I can get hold of the originals in Pune..

Harimohan said...

Have Keerti's signed copy at home. Come to Hyderabad!