Book Review: Scream and Other Urbane Legends By Dr Koshy AV
The genre of short story in order to claim its rightful place needs to evolve and diversify like the Novel has already done. It is from this perspective that this collection of short stories attains significance because Scream and other Urbane Legends contains many a seed which if nourished and watered properly can bear amazing fruits.
Author: Dr Koshy AV
Paperback: 171 pages
Publisher: LiFi Publications Pvt Ltd (1 January 2017)
Scream and other Urbane Legends, a collection of 28 short stories and a novella, is a very recent offering by Dr A.V Koshy, an author, critic, poet and academician who needs no introduction. At the very onset let it be clear that this collection of stories would be read at two different levels by two different categories of readers (if not more).
The first category of reader I would like to call Caliban – not in derogation but owing to the fact that such readers are ‘Literature’ illiterate, that is readers like me who do not have an extensive and detailed literature background and thus will be severely handicapped in picking up the intertextuality and allusions with which these stories are profusely underlined. For them reading this book will be akin to playing Beethoven’s 5th symphony in front of Caliban; he may not be able to pick up the movements, the technicalities, and the subtleties but in his own words, he certainly would recognize “Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.” Such readers may not be able to make sense of most of what is written in these stories but they will certainly sense that there is something amazing and wonderful at hand. A Caliban may not recognize a symphony but he sure will appreciate the music.
The second category of reader I would like to call Eliot – one steeped in and across genres of not only Literature but fine arts overall (and across languages and cultures as well), because diffused across these stories are echoes of literature as well as rock music, opera, painting, mythology (oriental and occidental), anthropology, religion, economics, politics and God-knows-what-else-I-missed (I even read Jesse Owens somewhere which brings even the Olympics and racism and fascism into the list). For an Eliot this collection is a delicacy to be savored – slowly, surely and repeatedly. And the intellectual orgasm that each Eliot will experience, will depend upon his own sensibility and aesthetic evolution; will depend on his own ‘experience’- the more, the better.
Take for instance the very first story ‘Aouda: The Confluence’. A Caliban would read it and marvel at the story as he finishes reading that table-turning climax. Without knowing Aouda or Jules Verne, he would still realize that there is something more to it than just the hallucination of a dying man. He may or may not delve further as he has had his pleasure of story for which no knowledge of Verne and his work is needed. But an Eliot will be smiling by the end as he would realize how Aouda was made to live for some more time; despite and outside Verne. And depending on the sensibility and evolution of this Eliot, he may delve deeper- into the realms of Rebecca, Zarathustra, Nietzsche…
Similarly ‘Creation Myths on Poetry: A Trialogue’s reading will depend on who is reading it – a Christian theologian, a Vedic philosopher, a Greek mythologist, a Nietzschean, a Voltairean, a humanist, a feminist, a rationalist, a mystic, a Platonist, a neo-Platonist, an Appolonian, a Dionysian; or one with various permutations and combinations of the above.
Then there is also the restive and restless Koshy the poet that spills over every now and then. Not only because of the innate lyricism and explicit poetry that the stories are laced with but also because of stories (if one can call them stories) like ‘Those Unshent Feelings’ which forces the reader to read it like a poem; and ‘In the Shape of a Heart,’ which is a dramatic monologue in prose. Again ‘The Junction’ is ekphrasis of the mundane and commonplace as seen from the eyes of a poet.
One more aspect of reading Dr Koshy is that Koshy is a writer who is aware of what he is writing and how he is writing it. This is both a source of joy and agony for the reader. Agony because it occasionally irritates the reader as he realizes he is not in control of what he is reading and how he is reading it. He is forced to read the story as the author wants it to be read and not how the reader wants to read it and such a realization makes him aware of his impotence and hence the irritation. For instance in ‘The Sculptor,’ a reader is drawn towards the protagonist as a failing man in the wordly sense- his domesticity and an average middle-class life in collision with his dreams but Dr Koshy forces the reader to read his story as that of an artist and the reader, despite his interest otherwise, finds himself in the artistic universe of the sculptor at the end. But, as already said, this peculiarity of Dr Koshy is also a source of joy for the reader as this is how, the author is literally holding the hand of the reader and leading him to the exquisite depth and pleasure of reading. Had it not been so a piece like ‘The Poor Poet’ or ‘The Writer Who Lost it at the Edge of the World’ would just have made poor reading- the proverbial pearls fed to hens.
Till date, the Short Story as a genre has remained as a poor handmaiden to the more illustrious genre of ‘Novel’. But times they are a changing (Alice Munro recently won a Nobel in Literature), the era of the short story seems to be near. But the genre of short story in order to claim its rightful place needs to evolve and diversify like the Novel has already done. It is from this perspective that this collection of short stories attains significance because ‘Scream and other Urbane Legends’ contains many a seed which if nourished and watered properly can bear amazing fruits. Although there is more than one story in this collection which fits superbly into the mould and structure of a classic short story with all its elements in place, yet there are also stories which seem to be fountainheads of evolution and diversification that the genre of short story needs in order to come out of its stasis. And they are quite interesting- these experiments in the genre. There is a story which appears to be only the classic ‘Setting’ ; one more appears to be only the classic ‘Character’; still another is only the element of ‘Dialogue’; so forth and so on. Dr A.V Koshy seems to be deconstructing the classic short story into its elements and then constructing each element into a separate complete whole. This experimentation with the form and content is not the only one, there are stories that require a whole new level of reader involvement and participation.
Although various forms of literature in the post-modern era are already toying up with this idea of active participation of the reader/audience but Dr A.V Koshy has extended this to the genre of short story (in some of the stories) to such a level that the reader and his reading becomes the 6th element of his short stories. For instance, the short story ‘Miracle’ requires a reader for its closure; and the closure will depend upon the temperament and sensibility of the reader. For a fantasist, optimistic, romantic reader the story will end with the reader contorting a happy ending wherein Prakash is returned to his (presumably) wealthy family and Chotu will go on living them in a clichéd happily-ever-after mode in lieu of her and her father’s kindness towards Prakash. That will be the miracle of the story. But on the other hand a pessimist-realist reader will contort an ending wherein Prakash is returned to his family but owing to his mental handicap he would never be able to convey the kindness that Chotu and her father has shown to him and hence, as a result, he will return to his family leaving a dying Chotu with her father already dead on the road bewailed only by Tigy the cat and Indu the dog. The titular ‘Miracle’ is thus a satiric-ironic one.
This subtle innovation is more prominently at display in the story, ‘Raktha Rakshas’. The story is built up in such a way that by the end the reader himself becomes a character. At its climax it is not only the Chackochen the stereotypic patriarchal lusty author and the audience within the story that she is speaking to but also to the reader. And when she bites into the jugular vein of Chackochen, she at the same time bites into the jugular of the reader as well who is now forced to open his eyes from the lethargy of custom and see the whole story from a different feminine perspective and reconsider his value judgement over the proverbial Raktha-rakshas(blood demoness).
To sum it up ‘Scream and other Urbane Legends’ in the words of the author himself is (nothing) but “an extremely painstaking attempt to write great literature and (for) those who love savouring reading and researching over and over again, the stories, will open up a world of delights, rich repasts and vistas of the imagination in miniature.”
We cannot agree more.
More to read in Literary Criticism by Dr Ampat Koshy
The opinions shared by the writer is his personal opinion and does not reflect the opinion of Learning and Creativity Magazine. The writer is solely responsible for any claims arising out of the contents of this article.
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