These stories, Collected under the title, Broken Shadow by Radhika Mukherjee, twelve shorts in total, celebrate words, in their plight to reach out to the world about which an artist seeks to search the meaning of, the immense beauty of those words, written with deep dedication which is visible in every word, one is caught up immediately. There is no build-up, no fooling around. These are not stories of plot and drama, twists and turns. These are the stories more in the style of Annie Dillard's The Writing Life and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, contemplative, meditative. I hope I'd not be sued by Chicago Tribune description of The Writing Life, for it perfectly fits this collection of story, which I plagiarize with due credit here, "For non-writers, it is a glimpse into trials and satisfactions of a life spent with words. For writers, it is a warm, rambling conversation with a stimulating and extraordinarily talented colleague." While the book is much shorter in length, only 33 pages as against the Annie Dillard's books or even Virginia Woolfe's- A writer's Journal, the feelings one gets is the same, and Radhika Mukherjee surely comes out as one talented colleague, if I may address her thus myself being a moonlighting, dilettante writer. Radhika is conscious and confident of her words and her adroitness and deftness holds the reader’s attention from the first sentence of the first story “Translucent”.
“Manifested in amorphous sensations and currents rippling through me- bringing one moment a tear, then a smile” she writes. If one has picked up this book in passing, by the time one reads the first page of the first chapter, a perfumed, heavenly sense envelopes the reader. To me the most lovely prose is the one which melts into poetry. It is bit more handsome than poetry, less delicate, but as beautiful and as accurate. Radhika effortlessly attainst that which essentially evidences the effort that would have gone into it, not visible to the reader. In her first story, Art seeks to reach out, screams to the world, which moves uncaring and unconcerned, riding on its behemoth wheels, a giant juggernaut which rolls about, with a hope and a plea. The artist, is wrapped in a translucence of embarrassment about the abundance of sensitivity that every artist can be blamed for, which the world is not able to pierce through. This translucence is her comfort and her hope, as she writes- Could you come get me? Bring me a candle perhaps?
This is followed by the second story, Pain. This peaks of the eternal fear every artist is plagued with, sculptor in this case. A poet, a writer, always is haunted with the fear of a sudden loss of the building blocks of his writings, his words, his feeling and a mind to bring the two together, as if the night will burn it all into ashes and the morning will come coughing through the air laden with gray flakes of charred ashes, the last remnants of dead words. The fear is consistent and constant company. Here, Radhika, the sculptor has a back weakened with pain. This could be real, this could be symbolic. The back could be spine, the spine to continuously wage a war with the world , with blank spaces, driven merely on the faith in one's own feelings and ideas. The fear is palpable, and pain is apparent. What if I die with my art unfinished, perspective undiscovered, stories untold. What am I without them? It also opens another aspect of art. It is not leisure. Art isn’t luxury. Art is very serious hard work and each piece that one creates takes away a part of the creator. Not that the creator minds that, that is what she strives for, to offer a piece of flesh from the part very near to the heart, and to hope that the world will hold it with same love, same affection with which it is created. She wades through the very physical interruption, the pain, the noise, the television and then she creates, a piece of art, another one, in the long chain since the beginning of the mankind, as a consolation, a hope, a striving towards eternity.
Then we have the story Like, which expands beyond the realm of art and creation. It is everybody's story. She writes “I’ll smile at anything. The smallest thing really. Even squirrels and marauding rats.” The story is about the friendship with a tiny tortoise as a companion. But it is a story beyond that. The silent loneliness, the quest for company amid the almost unreal, unfeeling bombardment of the technology driven “connect” that haunts our days. Kooki is her friend, an undemanding friend which offers what a man needs most in today’s world, that “Thereness”. This word comes to me from “The Book Thief” by Markus Zussack, where he wrote, “Trust was accumulated quickly due primarily to brute strength of the man’s gentleness, his thereness”. As the new relationship gets established between the little girl Liesel Meminger and her foster father, Hans Hubermann, Markus Zussack write, The girl knew from the outset that Hans Hubermann would always appear mid-scream and he would never leave.” If Radhika is Liesel, Kooki is her Hans Hubermann here. The story also briefly touches upon our own lack of readiness, our own distrust with our capability to step into a relation as she ponders where to keep the tortoise goes about interfacing with the world. Will the world creep in and destroy a fragile friendship? I cannot make out if she intended to bring that about. But the style of stories is very much like a journal, free-flowing, cryptic and complex, and above all, brutally honest. We cannot make out if she intended to let in the modern day syndrome of wanting to get affirmation of our relationships from the world as we put picture of husband, kids, wives, boyfriends/girlfriends on social media and wait for them to be liked, nice things said about our relationships. Do we need reassurance of a hundred likes to value the company of those we love? What if they are not cute, handsome, and beautiful? When one is honest, truths emerge like herbs from all corners, sometimes unknown to the writer. That is the reason, one learns many things from reading, at times by even by reading your own stories.
Actually, she ponders about the all-pervasiveness, the intrusion of technology in her following story aptly named “Addiction”. The smooth screen which we keep running fingers on helplessly, refreshing the screen for the newer messages, building newer relationships, overwhelming us in their hollow enormity. And then nature, our only refuge and remedy, which awaits in its eternally peaceful and patient presence, for us to reach out, like a rose in the pot, for us to wake up from the trance. Nothing helps but nature. Not even a pretense holiday, and meditation with some Guru as she tells in the following story, Holiday. What we search without, is within, untapped, unheard, silent awaiting for you to be free and listen to those constant whispers, begging attention, offering hope and emancipation. No guru can take you there if you aren’t ready, and once you are ready, no guru is needed.
The last of the story is about “Stories”, as to how they rise from within, which Radhika says, as if they were some mind-parasites, feeding on our own mind, and they writes themselves out. This is the last story. In the perspective, this is not an ordinary story-book. There are no characters and twist and turns of the plot. These are stories dealing with denser subjects and dig way deeper into the soul. These are more of meditations of an artist. A solitary, sensitive, soul, wandering about in a vast desert under a cloudy sky with no stars to show the way. Only possibility is a hunch, a feeling, an honesty of the heart to guide the way. The thoughts are meditative, the writing is reflective and the words, ah, that is the word, I was searching for, are exquisite. In an era and age, where even writing is being done a lot in an assembly-line fashion with test-group and market research rather than working on words and passionate treatment of ideas(which is why I usually end up reading old-time classics), it is a pleasure to read these stories. This book is a literary treat. Not in a hurry, with love, with respect, after one has washed the soul. You need to be ready to receive this.
Amazon Link : Broken Shadows- By Radhika Mukherjee
Stories: Twelve Stories