Pain and conflict surrounds us in myriad forms and we understand only a part of it. We empathise with a much lesser part of what we understand and we are in a position to alleviate only a fraction of it all. But like Kirthi Jayakumar, the writer of ‘The Dove’s Lament’, we need to know what happens where and ‘whether the repercussions were similar for all the victims, irrespective of the time, place, or type of tragedy; whether the survivors were more ill-fated by surviving than those succumbed’… and the list to get under the skin of conflict is long, really long. Pain and conflict has for long been one of the many things that many writers have attempted to feel, understand, and then write about… and this collection of stories is one of them, though it goes about its task in a rather different way.
What is so different?
Let me start by saying that because I have just been on a trip to Jordan, the Middle East and the conflict there has been in my focus. At least two of the twelve stories are connected to the conflict in the region. The writer has done enough research to give us a two to three page synopsis of all the conflicts that have been covered. The Israel-Palestine conflict and the illegal occupation of the West Bank are two of these that connect us to the Middle East. Each of these explanatory notes (and I call them notes as they chromosomally sound academic) are preceded by a story that is aimed at priming the reader to plunge into these notes to complete the experience.
This scheme of things is laudable and in ‘For the love of a motherland’ one does travel from one war zone to another and sees relationships literally evolve from a little boy’s perspective. We soon know that ‘a silent scream had locked itself in his blue eyes’ and know why both Hannah and Hannan qualify for his affection. The reader also gets an emotive connect to what war-strife does to human psyches and how they react. Once the story is read, one appreciates the clinical review of the conflict that could have given rise to what happens in the story. However, this is where another conflict arose within me, the reader… but I will talk about my conflict later.
Imagine stories behind each face
The stories in the book are powerful enough to not only ‘imagine stories behind each face’ but also the ‘creases and furrows in older visages’, and ‘bags and bags and bags of pain’ in the eyes of the characters that come and sweep away everything else that bothers your mind until only they remain. And so you, as a reader, jump from one story to another… sometimes skipping the connecting history of the conflict because you rather like the volcanic eruptions of these scintillating bits of pain-ridden and pain-fighting characters.
The author does have a way with building up a tornado that some of us call the climax and so as a reader I always had an ice-cold grip clutching my heart to tell me that something deliberately drastic is about to happen. I was the character himself as ‘I left her at the brothel, she turned up to look at me. Against the moonlight, her face was pale, white. The skin under her right eye was blue. Lines criss-crossed the swollen blue, as angry red welts embroidered themselves across in a nasty patchwork of pain. A thin sliver of blood lined the right corner of her mouth. My heart skipped a beat. An iron-fist clamped down on my throat. I had an idea…’ And the reader instinctively knows what the idea could be and sits straight to plunge into the climax.
And so from a story that startles a genocide to one that jumps into a massacre, from caressing a conflict to knowing more about trafficking and child marriages, the reader in me loved them all. But as I have written earlier, one little facet bothered me all this while…
How well do the stories connect to the conflict?
Well, each story does connect to the conflict that the author mentions but only if it is not bound by a specific latitude and longitude. I mean, conflicts are after all universal, aren’t they? They don’t really need a ‘geography’ of their own… and they don’t really need a nomenclature that binds them to a region. I say this because the stories connect rather well to the conflict but not to the conflict that has a defined geographical boundary.
Let me explain this. Just geographically connecting names and references to a place are really not enough to take my mind racing to the region and being one with the people and their suffering there. Yes, I will connect to the conflict that is being talked about and I will cry with the characters and share their pain… but I will readily believe the same story to be from anywhere else in the world if the names and the places were changed. The same story with the right names and other proper nouns could very well be connecting to the conflict in Rwanda or in Sri Lanka or elsewhere. For instance, that prison that was supposed to be in Columbia can have been anywhere in the world, the story where ‘people fought on borrowed hatred’ can easily link to any conflict in any country…
All this, however, does not mean that the stories and the way they are written, is compromised. The emotions literally well up like tears from the words on the pages and there were times my finger gently wiped an imagined tear there. Each of the stories makes it a point to say that ‘there is a greater force than hatred, a greater strength than division’ and that ‘love takes many forms – and you do not need to know you love someone, to love them with all your heart’.
I agree with the book’s blurb that declares that the stories bring ‘to life the human side of conflicts that tear people apart’… and I feel it is an advantage that the stories are not so region-specific because every kind of conflict is actually happening all over and these conflicts do connect with each other in some intrinsic way that only stories can connect and unravel. However unreal it may sound, there is a West Bank in every country and there are drug lords menacing every corner of our world.
Title: The Dove’s Lament
Author: Kirthi Jayakimar
Price: Rs 250/- (in 2015)
29 July 2015