The Will and Other Stories The stories in this collection map the relation between writing and social power as they operate in a provincial milieu With an unusual take on social relations and values, the stories are shot through with a fine sense of self- consciousness that is seemingly at odds with the self-effacing and objective manner in which they are written.
No social institution or practice escapes the master storyteller’s gaze. Wry, clipped and clinical, these stories show J.P. Das at his ironic, debunking and self reflective best.
J.Y. (Jagannath Prasad) Das (b. 1936), poet, playwright, fiction writer and art historian, did his Masters from Allahabad University and Ph D from Sambalpur University. He was a member of the Indian Administrative Service but left it to devote himself to full time research and writing.
He has published eleven volumes of poetry, eight collections of short stories, a novel and five plays, besides a number of books for children. His works have been widely translated into English, Hindi and other Indian languages. He is a recipient of the Sahitya Akademi Award and the Saraswati Sarnman.
Ashok K Mohanty is a Professor of Finance at the Department of Business Administration, Berhampur University, Orissa. He is a translator, critic and columnist and has translated two collections of short stories and a novel from Oriya to English.
JP, the current toast of the literati for the Saraswati Samman he has recently won for his book of poems Parikrarma, is also a prolific writer of prose. He occupies a special place in the history of the Oriya short story, having helped to modernise it by expanding its horizon and by his unusual angles of approach. And what is more, he writes with an exquisite and delicate sell-consciousness about himself as a writer standing on that perilous crossroads where fiction, illusion and truth meet arid mingle. Does that mean, as it seems to do for many lesser writers, an automatic glorification of writing, or — and which is the obverse of it — a self-deprecatory view of the writer as a fabricator of lies? The answer, I think, is in the negative. For JP writing even when or, rather particularly because, it trades in the shadowy realm of the unreal and the imaginary has effects in the real world. This is because writing, whatever its specifiable aesthetic function, is also ideological in its role and implication. I shall in fact go so far as to say that JP is one among the few living contemporary Oriya writers who is astute in mapping the relations between writing and social power as they obtain in a provincial milieu.
This collection contains eleven stories of JP translated from the original Oriya into English by Ashok Mohanty. Except for one story none has been published before in English. Even this story, published as “The Interlude” in an earlier volume of translated Oriya stories titled Ants, Ghosts and Whispering Trees (2003), is featured here as “All Alone.” Since the translator’s brief was to select for the present volume those among JP’s stories previously unpublished in English, he probably may not have had much of a scope for a thematic organisation. Reading through the stories, however, one is astonished and intrigued to find at least five of the stories as having writing and writers as their subject matter. Out of the remaining six, three are woman-centred stories. One, a mystery story, is in a class by itself. The rest two are about the homeostasis of Oriya cultural life that JP is so adept at revealing.
The reader will probably tend to focus more on the three stories with women as protagonists, the mystery story — another potentially woman-centred story — where the Goddess Subhadra appears in the shape of a Japanese girl to restore to the narrator-protagonist the photographs of the Gods in Pun that had gone astray, and, the five stories that present a deglamourised picture of writing as a profession. The two stories dealing with a sycophantic and paralytic political culture are more predictable in their outcome. I shall, therefore, endeavour to cue the reader a little bit about the ones I have singled out.
The three woman-centred stories are about women wanting to take control of their lives and careers in ways that are both explicit and subtle. Furthermore, “All Alone” shows the protagonist, Ranjana, in the act of pleasuring herself in the privacy of her own room with a kind of abandon which not only recalls the Lawerentian distinction between the “warm hearted intimate and personal me” and the “social mental me”, but also attempts the bold shifting of this area of traditional male preserve to the woman. “Eyes” plays on the uncanny resemblance between the yellow-hued and mongoloid Subhadra, thought to be a deity of tribal descent, and a Japanese woman. I read it with the same kind of thrill with which I had read Marion Crawford’s mystery story “The Upper Berth.”
The five stories about writing and writers are indeed a tour de force. JP reflects in them on the fate of writing in a commodified culture. “The Patron Saint”, with its tongue-in- cheek portrayal of Somprakash, the canonised author of a cult novel, is perhaps the finest story ever written about the magic of that commodity called writing which camouflages Somprakash’s naked lust for wine, women and wealth. ‘The Image” and “The Long Life of Poetry” represent a searing vision of the literary power politics that drives our culture. “The Progenitor” brings out the farcical game of power that is fought over the seemingly simple matter of turning a novel into a film. With the novel “Uttarayan” transformed into “Dakshthayan” in the televised version, the progenitor is finally ousted from his creation. The story is a spoof on a mad tendency within translation studies (emblematised through a character named Udbhrant which translates as crazy) that displaces local needs in favour of global wishes. Finally, if there is a story which shows that fiction is fatally entangled in life, it is “The Cast.” The story is about coincidences between fiction and real life, leading to situations that are comic on the surface but dangerous underneath. JP has succeeded in putting Kafka (one thinks of The Trial) and Garcia Marquez (the inevitable reference here is to “The Chronicle of a Death Foretold”) into the same broth.
And it is not as though these are disembodied insights. There are events galore in the stories for the reader to stay tuned. The reader can feel the power of the wry, clipped and clinical style of the original in the translations and so will miss none of the power of JP’s provocative art of storytelling for which he has justly been accoladed.
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