Originally published here
An everyday bus rider finds himself alone for the first time in his life when he gets off at an unknown stop. Wandering in the darkness, he encounters an old, probably abandoned reading room in the middle of nowhere. He peers inside, curious to see if anyone seems to be there, reading a pile of books with a ‘great sense of urgency because he is worried about his advancing age and depleting eyesight.’ It is this same sense of urgency, the fear of missing out, that suddenly drives him to catch up on everything that he had missed out on in life so far because he was never truly alone. ‘Alone’, with its Murakamiesqe touch, might be the only story in this collection that does not have a dark or morbid twist to it. Or maybe it does.
The blurb of S Hareesh’s Adam describes the stories as those ‘that explore the more difficult of human emotions- lust, anger, jealousy, vengeance, and greed’. But the constant in almost all the stories is the emotion that surfaces as a result of lust, anger, jealousy, vengeance, and greed: human pettiness.
The title story Adam is the tale of Candy, Jordan, Arthur, and Victor, four offspring from the same mother. Arthur becomes the innocent victim of someone else’s past sins and is condemned to lead a wretched life, Victor becomes a national hero who meets a gory end and Jordan breaks free. But it is Candy whose story is the most heartbreaking. How easily humans discard their objects of affection, or are forced to, when replaced by what they perceive as a better version.
Death Notice is perhaps the darkest and most mind-blowing story of the lot. It begins on a disturbing note with a mongrel wailing for her newborn litter that has just been buried alive and the cries of a pregnant cow in the throes of death. But the story moves further to take on a more morbid turn as Peter sir, Joppan, and the narrator gamble using death notices cut out from newspapers while waiting for the turtle meat to cook.
Lord of the Hunt is a story of an assistant bank manager’s obsession with wild game that makes him take on a dual personality. He transforms into a man possessed when his supplier gets him wild game meat and he walks around in bloodstained clothes, dodging the law and distributing it to his secret customers. ‘Eating wild game is like the doctor having an affair with one of the nurses. It is forbidden, so you don’t want anyone knowing about it, but really you want the whole world to find out.’ He takes it as a personal insult when the authenticity of his deer meat is questioned and refuses to acknowledge the fact that he was once an animal lover who cried when a rabbit was killed. As he gets drawn deeper and deeper into this strange obsession, he finds himself alienated from his normal life. The raw base instinct of the hunter in him is awakened each time he is near a forest. But while he imagines himself to be Jim Corbett, he actually transforms himself into a caricature, a Shikari Shambu.
Kavyamela is a disturbing story that showcases the ugliest side of men. Not humans, but men; men who play a dirty trick on their blind friend and his lover. It leaves the reader angry and disgusted.
Political and social messages
Magic Tail is perhaps the most poignant story of the lot. A single woman requests her childhood friend to help her transport her dead father in a Maruti Omni from Bangalore to Kerala. ‘I did kill Papa. I forced him to move here’ she says while they prepare the body for transport. The practical and matter-of-fact way in which every step of the journey plays out, where basic human needs of hunger, thirst, and other requirements are addressed with the dead body in the backseat makes the story the most hard-hitting of the lot.
Night Watch is the perfect story to end the collection with; it leaves you laughing. This is a story of death and an age-old enmity between the two men, but there are entire paragraphs dedicated to describing the various obscenities that the two men throw at each other during a fight including what was considered the perfect response that ‘was so imaginative that it put epic poets to shame’ leaving the reader’s imagination go wild.
The subtle and not-so-subtle political and social messages that are neatly packaged into all the stories do not go unnoticed, especially in Maoist. ‘This is a land that worships the buffalo-slayer as God’, says the man as he prepares to go in search of the buffaloes that had escaped from the butcher. The movie Jallikattu was based on this story, but for those who haven’t watched the movie, this story is a refreshing treat in itself.
Jayasree Kalathil’s translation is brilliant and it has maintained the richness of the original with all the local references and context, while at the same time not alienating a reader who is unfamiliar with the environment.
Some of the stories have such a dark twist that it makes you almost feel guilty for enjoying them. The setting of the stories ranges from everyday relatable to borderline bizarre, but every character leaves the reader wanting more. Each character, whether human, animal, or beyond, has multiple layers that unravel with each reading. These nine stories deserve more than one read to truly experience the nuances in the narration and the many shades and layers of the characters.
About the Book
Translated by Jayasree Kalathil
Vintage Books (Penguin)
Rs 388 ; 192 pages (Hardcover)