Monthly Archives: November 2012

Style No. 37: Bombastic

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Style No. 37: Bombastic

A boy as young as a bubble cast from the froth of a stormy sea blows into his whistle like the harmattan blasting over the Sahara in the bleary days of August. He is plunged into the ocean of his own thoughts like a nuclear submarine scraping the darkness of the sea floor. His supreme companion holds him in the trap of his arm like a hunter of affection laying snares for the bear of boyhood friendship, while gazing upon the masses in the distance roiling like soup pot of an aged grandmother.

At that time a grandmother as wrinkled as a desert date mummified in the tomb of a pharaoh for millennia appeared and swept past them like an incontinent ballerina, her nervousness spilling from her like the waters of a bursting dam. Beneath the shawl on her head she guarded an object as though she were a ninja hiding squid ink at midnight. Meanwhile, behind them a man as sombre as the funeral of a thousand puppies looked the other way with eyes as knowing as an orgy of the sages.

A man as old as time enswirled as if by the succulent meringues of a thousand eggs hobbles toward his home as green as all the world’s pistachio ice cream had been unctuously massaged into its slate-flat walls by the impetuous gods of nuts and dairy. Clicked this in Jew Town, Kochi, Kerala (India) in 2011.

Hey everybody — thanks for reading 🙂

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Review: I Am An Executioner by Rajesh Parameswaran

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I’m dawdling in my local bookstore, thinking up creative ways to avoid working. I come across an enigmatic title on the new fiction table: I Am An Executioner: Love Stories. 

Love stories? Execution? Together? I’m intrigued. I pick it up, flip through the first pages, and find myself plunged into the mind a dejected tiger listening to the moans of his dream female having sex at the far end of the zoo enclosure. The alpha male strikes again. Poor tiger. Interesting story (the tiger goes on to fall in love with his zookeeper… it doesn’t end well).

Rajesh Parameswaran’s debut collection of fiction is full of stories with original premises and engaging prose. He moves easily from the world of animals to death row to the offices of fake doctors to outer space. There really isn’t time to get bored.

His relentless creativity makes spending a few hours with his work a pleasure. But it is also where his faults lie. “Elephants In Captivity (Part I)”, for example, is a bifurcated story narrated in the main text by an elephant and in the footnotes by a human editor. The human voice intrudes into the elephant’s story to the extent where some pages have only one line of text and nearly a full page of notes. This is a clever structure, and as you read on you realize the notes actually tell their own story rather than simply expanding the main text. But it’s not easy to follow. Footnotes have been banished to academia for centuries, and there’s a reason for that.

Similarly, “The Four Rajeshes” is a historical tale that is actually being invented on the fly by a narrator (Rajesh) who is looking at photograph of a man long dead — a man (Rajesh, also) about whom he knows nothing. In this highly self-referential piece, the dead (and imagined) Rajesh’s voice frequently interrupts the present Rajesh to chastise him for getting his character wrong and mistelling the tale of his life.

Are you befuddled by this explanation? Try reading the story; it’s another overdose of ingenuity. The actual meat of the narrative is fascinating — it’s inspired by Melville’s famous short “Bartleby, the Scrivener”, but the action has been transposed to the early days of train travel in rural India. The characters are great: they have ambition, love, eccentricity, and charm. But Parameswaran’s habit of opening the hood of the story to play around with the machinery serves no purpose other than to get in the way of the story itself. Sure, it demonstrates his familiarity with a postmodernist deconstruction of narrative and identity, but I think that’s a bit old hat by now. And it doesn’t make for fun reading.

Happily, most of the stories are content to abide in the realm of cogency, and they keep the pages turning. Parameswaran’s voice is both irreverent and warm, and when it comes to setting and genre it feels as if nothing can hold him back. I was refreshed to be one minute immersed in a frightening society where everyone turns out to be a secret agent spying on everyone else (“Narrative of Agent 97-4702” — the collection’s best story, in my opinion), and the next amid a poignant love triangle with Bollywood’s aging giants (“Bibhutibhushan Mallik’s Final Storyboard”). By the time I reached the back cover, I felt I’d been around the world two or three times.

I Am An Executioner has depth and humour. It asks tough questions — some too tough, perhaps — and doesn’t give answers easily. The stories’ endings are somewhat loose, but usually in a good way, finding a balance between offering resolution and inviting you to wonder what happened next.

On the whole, I’m impressed. Parameswaran apparently has a novel in the works, and I’ll be looking out for it. In the meantime, if you’re also thinking of how to avoid work, checking out I Am An Executioner is not a bad idea.

Style No. 36: So

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Style No. 36: So

So I’m watching this little guy. He’s got this whistle, so he’s blowing it. Seems like an interesting kid, so I take note of his apparel — it’s an orange t-shirt, so I’m thinking he must be outgoing. So I take a closer look at his expression, and I see he’s completely sucked into his own mental vortex, a real introvert, yet with a flair for ostentatious garments. So I realize he’s something of a complicated youth.

So then I discern a foreign limb draped over him, so I follow its contour and find it attached to a second boy. So I size him up, and find that he’s looking off in the distance. So I spin around to see what’s caught his eye. So that’s how I noticed the gaggle of folks milling about over there.

So, as I wonder how I missed that in the first place, this old grandmother passes by. It’s not remarkable in itself, but it catches my eye. So I ask myself — what gives? So then I see she’s hiding something. So as she moves by I try to figure out what it is, but all I can see is she’s got something jammed up under the shawl on her head. So eventually I give up and turn my attention to the serious man behind the kids. He comes off as quite a character, as a real no-nonsense guy, so I try to make eye contact. I’m thinking: maybe he and I’ll be friends, maybe we’ll share a cup of tea — so I’m staring rather vigorously. So that’s when I notice he’s looking knowingly the other way. So I realized then the friendship was impossible and that I was condemned to solitude. So I resolved then and there to buy a waffle and forget the whole episode.

So, you should go to Belgium so you can survive on a diet of pure waffle. Clicked this in Brussels, 2011.

So that’s my latest post. So you should go eat a waffle and gratuitously rattle off some two-letter conjunctions. So thanks for reading 🙂

Style No. 35: Exclamations

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Style No. 35: Exclamations

 

Exclamations

Look! A young boy! In orange! And what! He’s whistling! And thinking too! At the same time! Two activities! Both exercised at once! Simultaneous execution! Impressive for such a young man! And he has a friend! They are touching! In physical contact! The two of them! Together! Touching! Friends indeed! Good ones! He is eyeing the crowd! In the distance! Looking there! Orienting his eyes in its general direction! Whilst fraternizing with the whistler! Him too! Two activities! Simultaneous execution! Such well-suited friends! How fortunate for them! What bounty in life! But look! A passerby! A female! How old she is! And how nervous! Hiding something, no doubt! But what could it be! What! I don’t know! I really don’t! Oh, wait! It must be an object! A secret one! Beneath her head shawl! Yes! I’ve unraveled her intrigue! How clever! I’m so pleased with myself! What a fantastic day this has turned out to be! I shall buy myself a strudel to celebrate! Wait, though! What’s behind them! Some guy! How serious he is! See his face! Like a donkey in the grave! And those eyes! Looking askance! Gazing oppositely! Espying the other way! With a stare so vacant! Yet knowing!

 

Hello! Look at me! I’m standing! In a river! On a dead fish!