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‘His Father’s Disease’ Also Tells of How an Assamese Writer Breaks Free From the Perspective Prison NE is Crammed Into

Book Title: His Father’s Disease

Author: Aruni Kashyap

Publisher: Context/Westland Publications

Genre: Fiction Short Story Collection.


Book summary:

At a conference in Delhi, Assamese writer Sanjib reimagines the enduring fable of Tejimola, the girl who sprouted leaves. But the English-language literati don’t understand why he doesn’t write about the insurgency.

With the very first story in this unusual and unapologetic collection, Aruni Kashyap sets the tone for an intimate exploration of a terrain that is both familiar and alien. In the spirit of modern post-colonial storytellers like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Daniyal Mueenuddin, his stories press the silences of the village and the nascent city to reveal their secrets. The result is a frank appraisal of our hypocrisies and desires, hopes and defeats—the stuff of the stuff we carry within us. Through tales that root up love, violence, motherhood and sex, Kashyap appears to ask: what are the stories about a place that are told, which ones are worth telling, what do we really want to say?

About the Author:

Aruni Kashyap is a writer and translator. He is the author of the novel The House With a Thousand Stories. He has also translated from Assamese and Indira Goswami’s last work of fiction, The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar. Aruni Kashyap writes short stories, novels and poetry in Assamese and English besides translating from Assamese. His work has appeared in The New York Times, The Guardian UK and The Hindu.

My Review:

His father’s Disease by Aruni Kashyap is a collection of ten short stories that will stay on with you because of what each one has to say to you. This is not a set of stories with a common theme running across for you have the universality of themes like loss and trauma, alienation in your own world or in another one different from yours, what blind fear does to people and what it means to have a sexual desire that is a ‘disease’ for others. These are stories that come to life with the reflections of the people and their lives in rural Assam, ones in which kinship and community ties are thrown in chaos under the ever present possibility of something bad that can happen. And there are stories in a far away town in America where the winter is the main villain apart from racial stereotypes, the despair of loneliness and getting distant from home in more ways than one.

The first story in this collection, ‘Skylark Girl’, a retelling of a popular folklore about a girl whose stepmother kills her only to come back in another form again and again is also a clever examination of biases and realities within North East India and those held by people outside. The narrative starts out with an Assamese writer Sanjib who is invited to speak at a literary conference in Delhi where the moderator is a suave Editor of a publishing house who hasn’t read his submission and who describes himself as ‘like a crusader for stories from the Northeast.’ In the panel along with Sanjib are other authors whose works are clearly the worst of writing tropes where the region is exploited as exotica and then normalized with elements from the mainstream to be able to pander to what they think is best. “Why aren’t you writing about conflict?” says the editor while the writer has had to struggle to get his Assamese writing translated into English. His friend who teaches English literature in Assamese finds the task daunting. Everything about this story holds a mirror to how literature in India is where it is today: centrist, populist and happy to peddle exotica while real gems lie scattered or boxed in by the demands to stay where they are dictated.

Bizi Colony chronicles a family that is caught in the throes of a younger son who has an addiction to pot. As you read what each family member is going through with the baggage of their ties to the son and his own unwillingness to be helped or recover, you begin to realize slowly how addiction is not just one person’s struggle but something that weighs down on everyone. And then, Aruni turns the knife in your mind by making you wonder very subtly if everything that a person who is addicted says is untrue and without basis.

Two sets of stories in this collection are interconnected to one another through common characters: “Minnesota Nice” is about how Himjyoti, tries to settle into life in America with a roommate named Mike and his girlfriend Neelakshi while “The Umricans” goes beyond the trying to fit in stage and delves more into how moving away from family is a bitter pill to swallow for everyone involved and how one slowly but surely is almost pulled into becoming emotionally distant too. “For the Greater Common Good” and “His Father’s Disease” follows a family carrying the legacy of old beliefs while battling with the horrors of their present in the form of security personnel from a nearly army camp. The former has a daughter of the family bearing the brunt of the past and the present while in the later story, there are layers to the characters and the dilemmas they face. A minor flaw emerges from the second story too : the female protagonist whose story was integral in the first story is not mentioned at all.

“Before the bullet” is a story that you know cannot end in anything except tragedy. The twist here is that people who have grown up with AFSPA around their necks will know exactly why the tragedy happens and will only focus on the writing while those unfamiliar with how oppression can wear and numb one down will recoil at the imagery of violence that Aruni Kashyap writes this one. His closing line? “By then, the laburnum flowers had covered Digonto’s smashed brain.”

“Like the Thread in a Garland” is the most deceptive of the stories where the author sets you up on a track that you are sure is the reason why the marriage of a couple remains unconsummated. The turn it takes amidst a fair share of dramatic elements is something that one doesn’t see coming at all. From sublte but biting sarcasm in parts, to being profound and full of anguish in others, the 10 stories have a lot to offer. They make for very compelling reading and will leave you thinking just a bit more. It’s one book I will not tire of recommending for its writing.

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