A few years ago, in one of his interviews, Siddhartha Gigoo said, “my interest is only human stories. Stories about people, their dreams, their loves, their perfections and imperfections.” And true to his words his writings as well as films always emphasise on the human angle of a story.
His debut novel The Garden of Solitude is a story of a Kashmiri Pandit in exile who flees his homeland to escape a bloody political conflict. At the same time, it is a human story of lost dreams and the author doesn’t, even for a moment, allow his prose to lose contact with the human angle of the story.
His latest book A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories continues in the same spirit of humanity as he tells the stories of men and women who have either been displaced from their homeland or are prisoners of a vicious circle of violent political movements. Poignancy, the author’s belief in the dictum that every single human being is basically good at heart, and a refusal to categorise or give political colour to a human tragedy are hallmarks of Siddhartha Gigoo’s writings.
The Search, the opening story, is about a researcher who comes across many strange incidents during his research and discovers disturbing secrets about a dying clan. The story is somewhat allegorical in content and is dedicated to the people across the world who have been forcibly evicted from the land of their birth due to socio-political reasons.
Another story Poison, Nectar depicts the difficulties of a routine life of a Kashmiri Pandit family in a refugee camp. An old man, exiled from his native place, dies without proper treatment in a tiny tattered tent which is not enough for two persons but has been housing a family of four grown-ups. A heart wrenching story Sleep Robbers is set in Kashmir (author doesn’t name the place but you can guess) where a boy mourns the death of his friend named Firdaus. He observes that this untimely death has shattered his friend’s parents, but in order to save their own lives from the state agencies his friend’s father disowns his own dead son branding him a disgrace to their family.
There are more such stories where the author’s main concerns are to tell the stories of mundane struggles of common men and women who are trapped in a vortex of political upheavals. Most of the stories bring into play the sense of desolation, loneliness, suffering and pain. But there is one story that is poignant and makes you smile with an unexpected climax. An old man’s sons’ insistence that their father should go on a pilgrimage makes the old embark on a journey to visit religious places. But before leaving his home what the old man does leaves his sons and daughters-in-law flabbergasted.
It is the funniest story of the lot giving respite to readers amid the sea of gloom and despair. The story raises many questions regarding the changing chemistry of our social structure in the South Asian countries. The idea of privacy has infected people so much that they consider their own family, like parents, as an intrusive presence in their lives. Titled The Pilgrimage, this particular story reminds this reviewer of famous Hindi writer Amrit Lal Nagar’s collection of short stories called Ek Dil Hazar Afsane which has many stories with deliciously surprising and fulfilling endings.
Siddhartha’s stories are basically about Kashmir and its people though he avoids mentioning it explicitly. It delineates the alchemy of political violence and its impact on human societies and human condition. Violence and counter-violence spare nobody. Everybody, including the active participants in the bloody game of the conflicts and those on the peripheries, has to pay some price at some point of time. For the author any loss is loss to the humanity. In his stories sufferings and deaths are not divided into ‘theirs’ or ‘ours’. And that is why he has not named characters or places in many of his stories and almost prevents readers to read his stories by using glasses fitted with political prisms and personal prejudices.
The way he deploys his language is sumptuous and fragrant with metaphors and similes. The narrative flows effortlessly and smoothly. There are two minor complaints about this collection. One, some of the stories end abruptly and, two, some are too abstract to be understood in one or two readings.
A Fistful of Earth and Other Stories Author: Siddhartha Gigoo Pages: 244 Publisher: Rupa Publications India Price: INR195