Dr Koshy AV’s first short stories collection ‘Scream and Other Urbane Legends’ was brought out by Lifi Publications on January 10th at New Delhi World Book Fair. The launch was done by Koshy’s wife Anna Gabriel Koshy as the author could not be present. In a note, the author thanked Rakesh Sharma and Ramesh Mittal and the Lifi team as well as Drs Bina Biswas and Santosh Bakaya and Archna Pant and Reena Prasad, all famous writers, for all help in writing forewords, blurbs and encouragement.
Here is what the author says on the book:
Stories. Not in chronological order. Spanning many years in its unfolding and unmaking. These are stories written by a poet and hence drenched in the splendour of poetry. The attempt was to write short stories that are poetic, and so they often deal with the theme of poetry or in two instances include poems as well as have characters in them who are poets. This is a uniting strand in and running through many of my stories. Another one is a restless inventiveness and experimentation.
My stories are rooted attempts, structurally, to go beyond narration and description into a kind of meta-understanding of what the short story itself as a form is about now, in our times, with an undertow of metafiction that often makes them short deconstructed versions of stories. A study of classical literature has helped me tremendously. Everywhere the reader will see a heavy reliance on allusions and inter-textuality used consciously, including many classics and great writers in its sweep, and these add a rich dimension to my writing for those who get the significance and referentiality in its full measure. What I mean by stories that exist in a deconstructed form is that the stories may resemble fragments in some cases and only concentrate on one of its elements like plot or characters or point of view or theme or setting alone or just one of the stages of the plot. This may make people think that they are not stories but that is not it, they are consciously, experimentally post-modern in form at least, if not in content, being very south Indian and Keralite and twentieth century in a sense in its cultural ethos, and Judaeo- Christian in its ethics
My stories reflect my abiding concern with women and sexuality that is more often than not stamped under the carpet in our societies. My women are both the oppressed, in stories like ‘Sandhya’, and the oppressor as in ‘The Yakshi who lived by the Periyar’. But the stories deal with these two facets of women only as an inset and have a much wider spectrum of themes. Some of the others follow a more or less traditional pattern, the settings alone changing at times to what some may think exotic locales that I lived in, to hold the reader’s interest, though the settings are not made exotic.
I also write of men and women in dialogue and in opposition. A trio of creation myths or origin stories on women and poetry pushes the envelope of what Indian story writing in English tries so far, or so I feel.
Examining masculinities and gender in men, trying to define what being a man is; makes for some of the shortest pieces here that are not any less literary thereby in its efforts. In fact, in my opinion, they contain some of my best bursts of short story writing, bursts that veer more towards ‘short shorts,’ micro and mini fiction and flash fiction and is therefore concentrated and intense. A kaleidoscope of forms, including sci-fi, the parable, the exemplum and the fable illuminate the collection. The themes too multiply to include friendship, religion and spirituality, satire of the literary world, autism, different kinds of relationships between males and women and men and females, and other sexualities, etc.
My stories pay tribute not only to Beckett’s minimalism but also to Isaac Babel, and many others like Chekhov and Nabokov, and one veers to Joyce and is left incomplete on purpose…!!! They are also influenced heavily by iconic classic rock music, musicians and songs.
Some of these stories have appeared elsewhere, as earlier, rougher drafts. An interesting point noticed while publishing those rough drafts about the creative process was the total illusoriness of fiction whereby if there is an autobiographical element in it it is considered pure fiction and vice versa by the readers, meaning if it is pure fiction it is often considered purely autobiographical! This can give rise to much incidental humour and dangerous speculation and that brings me to make another point, my writing is humorous in a very subtle, whimsical and wry way, though essentially it is tragic in its substratum and in its intensity,
My graphomania is vintage and meant to be enjoyed like slow, exquisite love making or like eating a lovingly cooked meal or as one enjoys travelling to exotic lands, times and places to meet with new cultures and people purely for the uniqueness of the experience. None of the stories herein are anything but extremely painstaking attempts to write great literature, but for those of you who love savouring reading and researching over and over again they will open up a world of delights, rich repasts and vistas of the imagination in miniature – as I am a minimalist – that you will come to cherish, till the next round of my story telling.
This book of short stories is purely experimental in that it spans a lot of forms. To start with, it tries its hand at straight, traditional story-telling, as well as short pieces of prose that can be called short stories only by those really aware of the developments in the genre, influenced by writers as diverse as Samuel Beckett and Gertrude Stein. One story shows the influence of Isaac Babel and another of Coelho. However, the originality of some of these stories probably appears more in their Indianness, their take on being an Indian from the south or a Keralite Malayali Syrian Christian by birth and upbringing, a cross between CSI and Marthomite, and in their exploration of taboo themes as well as their efforts to match the best in world literature. They are very fine specimens of writing but their success depends on a lot of Barthesian ‘writerly’ participation from their readers, which is one of their strengths and not weaknesses. One insistent theme is anger against the oppression of women, another of male-female relationships and a third, the exploration of masculinity. If one is ready to set aside qualms about new writing’s supposedly amoral nature, the book is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
My short stories are purely experimental in that it spans a lot of forms. To start with, it tries its hand at straight, traditional story-telling, as well as short pieces of prose that can be called short stories only by a stretch of theory, the imagination or application, by those really aware of the developments in the genre, as they are influenced by writers as diverse as Italo Calvino and Sadat Hasan Manto. However, the originality of some of these stories probably appears more in their straddling two centuries and being written in English, in different or lesser known places in India or abroad – hence diapsoric- and in their exploration of sometimes taboo themes as well as their efforts to match the best in world literature.
The short story, for those who know its history as well as I do, is often looked at in terms of periods, writers, important landmarks of stories or structures like its five or six elements or the Freytag’s pyramid etc. So I have written mine in such a way that I show readers that I can both fulfill all these obligations of prior knowledge thrust on me by my literary background if need be, and break (with) them totally as well and work completely outside (them), when I want to. My stories are thus traditional, modern or post-modern, depending on which mode I am working in, and I can use, destroy or just stay away from things like plot, characterization, setting, point of view, conflict, theme, or exposition, rising action, complication, climax, falling action or resolution adroitly. Moving from presence to absence, from evolution to devolution and from construction to deconstruction, the stories often remain minimalist but important aspects and landmarks of my progress as a writer for me, as one who is conscious of all aspects of his craft, including forms, style, language, structure, genre etc., while writing prose and short fiction.
In it there is a novella called Anamika. It brought forth diametrically opposite views from two writers/readers when they read it in rough. I love the story though. It has a solid flight to it with a pattern of lulls and ever rising crescendos leading to the climax that is like the troughs and crests of waves thumping against a sea-shore with each one becoming bigger till the last big one that splashes against the rocks and deluges you completely – a pattern that I particularly love as it is not found in any of my other stories.
It has been a long journey to my first book of short stories actually seeing the light of day. A book like what Dubliners may have meant to James Joyce.
Its significance is simple – in all the books in Indian English that I have read – starting from its beginning maybe right up to 2017 I have never seen such a heavy dose or overdose of experimentation in every aspect of writing fiction before, meaning in the genres of short short fiction, short stories and the novella – in plots, structures, forms, genres, styles, voices, points of view, themes, characterization, plot structures (meaning expositions, rising actions, conflicts, confrontations,complications, twists, hooks, turns, anti-climaxes, detours, digressions, climaxes, falling actions, denouments or resolutions), characters, techniques, playing around with moods, atmospheres, tones, ambiences and settings – as I have experimented with except in the case of a very few writers like G V Desani in All About H Hatterr, Raja Rao in his Kanthapura, Nakulan in his novel Words to the Wind in the Pappa Mia section, Salman Rushdie and maybe Jeet Thayyil.
It was even more experimental but had to be toned down several degrees to be at least a little bit on the edges or fringes of the mainstream!
It may be the first attempt at a quasi-Indian, quasi-post-modernist, quasi-modernist, quasi-diasporic, primarily deconstructionist, quasi- urban(e), anti-formalist, anti-structuralist collection of short stories in India.
More to read in Literary Criticism by Dr Ampat Koshy
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