Book review: Love and nostalgia for roots in 18 tales
By Chitra Ahenthem
Title: Ramu Prasad’s Angel
Author: Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh
Published by: Partridge India
Fiction: Short Stories, 162 pages.
Rating: 3.50/5 stars
Intricately woven stories in this collection are as varied as life itself—from the bond of friendship between an old washer-man and a little girl to the affection of a foul-mouthed but generous old woman for a young boy, from the story of humble villagers building a rickety bamboo fort to ward off a heavily armed gang to that of an honest and hardworking man made to become an unwilling witness to a midair scientific experiment. Others tell stories of the traumatic experience of people living in the midst of terror. Some are yet intriguing stories of the prophecy of dying at the hands of a child who is born long after the death of both his parents and of a perplexing young admirer expressing his pent-up feelings for a senior lady anonymously.
About the author:
Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh, an engineer by profession writes short stories, poems and non-fiction in English and Manipuri. He also translates from Manipuri into English and vice versa. His writings in English have appeared in Oxford University Press anthologies and in Glimpses from the North-East published by the National Knowledge Commission. He has received the Katha Award for translation in 2005. His short stories have been translated into Telugu and Malayalam.
Tayenjam Bijoykumar Singh’s ‘Ramu Prasad’s Angel’ is a collection of eighteen short stories, a majority of which are set in Manipur or have connections to the state by way of the character’s reminiscences. There is a cross cutting theme in all of the 18 short stories: that of a melancholic, almost despairing love for one’s roots connecting to Manipur. The loneliness of people brought about by circumstances: be it from the death of a spouse, a separation from family or living alone in an alien city is common between a few of the stories in this collection. The title story looks at an old migrant man living and working as a washer man in the state who tries to keep away his loneliness through his work. He forges a bond with a small girl that evokes the poignant innocence of Rabindranath Tagore’s Kabuliwallah while the larger theme of the story looks at how the growing urbanization in the state not only tears structures but relationships too.
The writing captures the simplicity of rural lives filled with bonds of affection on one hand as well as the clamor found in changing lifestyles as seen in in the stories: ‘Abok Macha, our small granny’ and ‘A pair of broken spectacles’. The later, has a bit of a supernatural element that the reader anticipates but takes pleasure in nevertheless. With Manipur and its people being a central theme to the stories, the writer could not have avoided writing about the unrest and the turmoil in the state along with its beauty. So, we have ‘Mauled cub’ that looks at how the power of those wielding guns, be it the state or central security forces or the armed militant groups play havoc in the lives of the common man and more so, how women suffer in unspeakable ways.
Interestingly, this collection of short stories, which was published in 2013, still has relevance to the socio political structure and setting of Manipur today. ‘The second death of Oinam Rabei’ looks at the rampant corrupt practices in the state and the reader can feel the tangible frustration and helplessness of the characters in the story while they try to grapple the matter of a person dying twice! ‘Asleep in a box’ is another story that has ethos and reflects all too well the plight of drivers along the difficult terrain of Manipur’s Highways and how their families almost live hand to mouth.
Ramu Prasad’s Angel is a book that I will recommend to readers who are looking at reading writings from Manipur. I certainly hope there will be another edition of the book that will place the translations of the Manipuri words in the order that they appear in the stories or as annotations on the pages. The cover of the book does not give any connection to Manipur and putting in some elements that links the picture to the state would certainly help catch the attention of readers.
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