MK Ajay’s debut collection of short stories, the blurb announces, “examines belongingness, delightfully eccentric behavior, displacement, every day surprises and longing to return to one’s roots”.
After reading the collection of short stories, one cannot but help observe that the writer has an amazingly gifted imagination as well as a knack for bringing alacrity to his writing.
However, the book delivers only unevenly on its other promises, more than the theme of belonging and a longing to return to one’s roots, the characters in the stories display eccentricity and more often than not are at the mercy of the supernatural and the unexplained (“Philatelist”, “The Drizzle of Yesteryears”, “Flight to Norway”, “Skylights”, “Departures”, “The Temple of Snakes”), when they are not rudderless.
There is a sense of purposelessness in the characters and situations that stands out (“The Holy Man”, “A Question of Morality”, ” Rebirth”, “Departures”, “The Temple of Snakes”.)
“Fortunes of Circle” shows a macabre sense of imagination.
“Country Practice” probes well into the cynical mind of man who has spent a lifetime in the village as a clerk in the post office.
“In Spam” is a perceptive journey into the mind of a contemporary advertising executive. Through a “virtual” Buddhist monk, the character achieves self- realization- a theme that is reminiscent of Herman Hesse’s Siddharta. Thematically, this is one of the better stories in the collection.
“The Search” impresses with its humanism, as does “The Sketch”. “Alpine Miracle” leaves a pleasant after taste and displays the writer’s ability to give an unexpected twist at the end- certainly a major hallmark of a good short story.
The story “A Sunday Visitor” is one of the finest ones in the collection. In a theme inspired, according to the author himself, from Pirandello, a character named Bhairavan in the novel of a writer comes to haunt the writer wanting to know why he was left unexplained in the novel.
Unfortunately, too many characters in the collection tend to be like Bhairavan- left without any palpable sense of meaningful existence.
The story “Twelfth Night” comes nearest to perfection, marred only by the writer not leveraging the caste dichotomy built in the first half of the story and selecting once again to be overawed by the inexplicable. There is a minor editing flaw though where the email is referred to as a letter.
In terms of literary style, the stories bear the mark of detail, for example:
He adjusted the loose soil with his sandals. Ants were carrying away an overripe mango from the tree nearby. The sun was peering through the mango tree as he scanned the hum of life around him- red ants, an oriole preening itself, a plump cat sleeping on the brick wall, hibiscus in full bloom.
There is no doubt on the technical finesse of the collection- there is indeed a mastery in the how to write a story, it is in the realm of what to say that expectations raised by the literary style leave one somewhat less enthused.
At their best, most of the stories individually succeed in holding the interest of the reader and some display a wonderful sense of suspense and mystery. But they have very little to tie the characters together on the theme of belongingness and longing to return.
Perhaps, it is an attempt to over intellectualize the stories- people have been migrating over centuries and being “At Home” and “In Exile” are not necessarily binary opposites or contrasting categories. And if they are, the stories don’t sufficiently bring that out.
Overall an uneven endeavor by a young author, whose first collection of short stories is marked by occasional flashes of brilliance.
There is a blog on the book that the writer maintains.