Yes, there is a God, but… the creator of stories is man. So, while we have an entire universe of raw material thrown at us, it is only the human mind that twists it all into a million different shapes. Manu Bhattathiri is one such human who has done a neat job of twisting innocuous looking material into thought-provoking stories in his ‘The greatest enemy of rain’, published by Aleph.
Nearly every writer does this – I mean, the job of turning raw material into stories – but not every one of them manages to create characters like Shabari (from ‘Shabari and Anita’) or Gopi (from ‘The greatest enemy of rain’) who, even without attempting fly into space and survive on Mars or lead global movements, make a teeny-weeny ball of complexity open-up and unravel a secret. This book has this sort of flow of unravelling alchemy ambling right through. In fact, Manu goes a step ahead and brings in even a super-computer Buster 235 (in ‘The answer’) giving us an unquestionable answer to an unanswerable question! It is these treks into not just the psychology of relationships but also the pathophysiology of technology blitzing its way into socio-economic and political environments that make these stories come alive.
Let me just say that for a few days I have not been reading but trekking up and down the simplest of sentence structures and watching them sprout into ideas that tower like skyscrapers. For instance, we have the generally reticent and not so outgoing Gopi in one of the stories tell Neelu, ‘the retired income tax clerk whose bad breath mad him stand a little away’: ‘Don’t tell me God is less smart than us, incapable of improving.’ This storyteller has an innate knack to weave just about every possible scenario into a story that develops into relevance at a pace that does not disconcert the reader. In fact, Manu himself writes that even fear and terror cannot really be as terrifying if they bring out the horror too quickly. In ‘Mani and the ghost’, where he is has the protagonist come face to face with someone who could ‘surrealistically glide-walk or telekinetically stop a car or metaphysically open locked doors’ but allows the reader to get into the clutches of goosebumps without having ‘long, weed-like arms’ waving at bushes to make them burst into flames. In this story, the protagonist is convinced that ghosts cannot really be scary as everyone eventually dies and get a chance to become one. The stories in this collection are forever poised to take sudden twists and effortlessly glide into slots that hold on to perceptions of prevalent social behaviour in ways that allows a writer to play his mind games.
Talking of mind games, even the tale where a supercomputer takes centre-stage and readers may be on the verge of feeling that the details might be a tad intimidating, the author employs his expertise to fling ideas into surprising arenas. He brings in humankind that ‘is forever caught up in some frenzy or the other’ and introduces satire in ways that makes us smile… and read on. This story has plenty of powwows between science and religion with our natural instinct for one-upmanship astride greed and self-interest egging the tale onwards. This story is about the chase for truth squeezing itself through facets that do nothing but twist the truth. Imagine having ‘subatomic packets of convincing information’ and ‘perception-changing ad-campaigns’ hobnobbing with a futuristic plot where even the director of his innovative supercomputer has spent his past years conniving with worldly success so much that he has ‘forgotten his original voice by now.’ Such is the impact of Manu’s stories, that a reader’s mind flows with each differing narrative.
The variations of backgrounds in his stories are what makes this collection a charm to read. We hop from the present to our tribal past and into the yet unseen future with even the supernatural making a guest appearance. Irrespective of what the genre choice of a reader might be, there is something for every possible nutty reader out there waiting to read stories that do not take forever because, after all, the publication industry is abuzz with fresh books at an unnerving pace anyway.
What I really liked about the stories in this collection is that even with the seemingly limiting extent of the format chosen, no disconcerting gaps in narrative populate them. The reader is not unceremoniously thrown from one cauldron to another to make the story move because when this happens, the authors have no choice but to scoop up conclusions and connections and serve them all in a platter towards the end. This mercifully does not happen. As I have already mentioned, readers gracefully trek through simple sentence constructions to reach summits after having the joy of going up every ascending contour of the landscape that the story has decided upon. It is a gradual ascent and, therefore, the charm of even long paragraphs of descriptions get an opportunity to make their presence felt. The author is in no hurry and yet the pace is never compromised. This is certainly the hallmark of a writer who understands his craft well. Though the author has had the experience of being a copywriter and a journalist and now an entrepreneur who runs his own advertising agency, one cannot always conclude that one will necessarily be a fascinating storyteller. Manu has definitely taken care not to fall for ungainly cliches and a writing style that fits into a defined slot. Every story comes tantalizingly close to leaving a different after-taste.
Yes, there is a god, but… they exist in stories well told.
Title: The greatest enemy of rain
Author: Manu Bhattathiri
Publisher: Aleph Book Company