Patwari Ashok, Turquoise Tulips, AuthorsPress, New Delhi, 2015, Paper Back, pages256, Price Rs 295/- $15/-
The first story teller is the mom, the dad, the grandpa or an affectionate one at home. The kid sits looking up with a sparkle in the eyes. The little one goes not asking very encouragingly –‘and then, and then’! Here oracy has primacy and lullaby also has a place in it. These are necessitated to hold the attention of the little ones.
Storytelling and story writing skills are not just the same. The former is for the listeners basically and skills of dramatization have a place there. Story writing is a complex of innovative and narrative capabilities and there can be no long gaps in the oral mode of narration. Story writing is for displaying human endeavour – to entertain, inform, teach and demonstrate. In the written story the narrator could be the writer himself or his persona.
Down the ages, the story has come a very long way. Story writers and readers become creative and appreciative in that order. Complexity and variety in subject and innovativeness in narration have been expanding. Ashok Patwari’s Turquoise Tulips is a landmark progress in narrative technique (the shifts in it sudden and electrfying), theme or subject matter, and the multiplicity of backgrounds. The locales are varied, inclusive and never prolix. Here are some to begin with: Simbai in Papua New Guinea, Nigeria, Kashmir, Delhi, U.P., Uttara Khand, Katra – Vaishno Devi, Bihar, Geneva, Male (Maldives) and the U.S. There are four and twenty stories in the volume. Only a few of these - two or three – may abide the question but the rest are undoubtedly and totally free.
‘Across the Ramu River’ is placed in Simbai. It is about the ignorance and superstition of the people of the land across the river Ramu where witchcraft and ghosts are believed with dread. Ricky, a doctor treats a patient whose life is threatened with cerebral malaria. The doctor has to speak and explain a way that the patient and the people could trust him. A well-trained and highly competent doc, Ashok uses those skills in narration too.
Sentiment and Faith are at the back of ‘Amma’ where a woman prays for the relief of her grandson offering her life as a price. The writer makes use of the belief that King Babur did the same to save his son Humayun’s life. ‘Birdie Come!’ is about an old man’s sentimental fear that birds which he fed every day stopped coming to eat the bread crumbs. He remembers his grandmother who he believed prevailed on a monkey to eat her asli ghee ka paratha. Writing or taking about the stories this way wouldn’t do justice to the artist story writer.
Laid in Nigeria ‘Bridges, not Barriers’, is another story moving around Bilharziasis and the feud between Christians and Muslims there. It has a moralistic tinge if not that kind of purport. A Christian who spent his life of Madimbo became Father John. He explains the problem of ignorance and illiteracy to Dr. Umaru. Reverend Wuye and Imam Ashafa become friends. The last words Father John uttered are “Promise me that both of you will build bridges ... remove barriers ...eliminate illiteracy and ignorance of our countrymen....”
The story ‘Down Flows the Stream’ deals with child psychology. Children learn mostly by themselves basically as a stream flows down. Dada ji an old man realizes this. ‘Treating the younger generation with respect and educating them without appearing to be influencing or dictating was the key’, was his thought. Sunny his grandson showed obedience agreeing with his teaching. The end of the story is that he his grandson Sunny runs towards the bathroom for cold water later to soothe his fingers scalded with hot wax! It is true that they learn by their own experience.
‘Et tu Beatrice’ is an amusing story though at the end the man never learnt anything. The protagonist after thirty years of married life, separates from his wife being belligerent, thoughtless and unjust. The second woman also deserts him and he cries like Caesar seeing Brutus stabbing him. The story may be taken as a ruse to soften hard husbands.
Laid in Sringar, Kashmir, ‘Faiz Azaam’ is about the cross firing near the beautiful Kashmir with Dal Lake, Nishant Bagh and Shalimar Bagh. The story makes the reader appreciate what Gula the protagonist saw after Haji Rasool Mir’s assassination. The story is philosophic with a suggestive message about the Almighty’s grace. There is a discussion about the answer to the question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?’ a question the six year olds ask –an uncomfortable one - even for the ones who had gone up the ladder very high. This is how the story ends: ‘But when I (Prof Viswajit) secretly ask myself, “Who am I?” the answer comes out without fear or favouritism is always – ‘Faluda!’
‘Lord, Forgive My Friend’ makes zestful reading dealing with the formality of security checks in the international airports where the officers sometimes could be exasperating. The narrator’s friend Sudhkar’s bag was checked in the makeshift station set up of as ‘Medical Counters for Swine Flu and he was asked to wait. Coming from the USA, his beard, his tired looks and his being an Indian wearing kurta-pyjama, too were suspect. The idol of Lord Krishna was found. There lay a story behind its being stolen. The narration raises hilarious laughter. At one stage Gopal tells his friend Sudhakar who brought the idol as a gift: “Sudhakar I am not too sure where we can keep this idol in this house (in Long Island). There is no proper place to keep it. Even in the puja room we already have stuff there. My wife and children are too aesthetic conscious ...”
‘Mukhagni’ deals with caste prejudice and the surprising behaviour of the Sarpanch. The pyre was lit, the mukhagni was performed Parvati. The daughter in law was from a ‘lower caste’.
‘Musings in Montego Bay’ is the longest story about a merry Jamaican travel guide and the visit to the famous Great House in the country in the most popular books in Jamaican history. The enthusiastic and jovial guide could not save a lady from her lover, a psychiatric patient. The narration and the locale of the story are captivating.
‘Quest for a Guru’ is about a person who firmly declined to visit the temple of Ma Vaishnav Devi near Katra for fear of the entry through the cave for the darshan. The way pilgrims are transported by a very special kind of Pithu whom the protagonist Rajesh finds to be his guru. He remembers his Dadaji’s last words: ‘When you are ready to seek guidance from a Guru, your Guru will come to you himself, and you will recognize him.’ The wonderful thing is that the never expected or dreamt of thing happens. The description of the visits to the Bhavan make those who have never seen the temple wish to visit it once.
The next story ‘Swamiji’ centres on a journalist working on “mission Vibhuti’. It is about Haridwar and Rishikesh in Uttaranchal. The Swamiji’s explication and the last sentence make the story fantastic: ‘Suddenly there was a fierce flash of lightning which created a flood of extraordinary bright light in the hut. ... When Srikant opened his eyes the hut was absolutely quiet. Everything inside the hut was undisturbed except that Swamiji was not there!’
‘The Night of the Tiger Hill’ is a very brief but highly captivating war story of one called ‘Fauja Singh’. The story ‘The Banyan Tree’ was laid about Vietnam and Ho Chi Minh City Airport. Nhu, the one who studied Botany, was impressed with the banyan tree’s growth. ‘It was like roots coming out from branches of the banyan tree and going down in an attempt to touch its soil again.’ Nhu remembered his grandfather and was desperate to emotionally reach out to his son and his grandson. This is a story about a very common human sentiment- even in war torn Vietnam - and very interesting.
‘The Dream House’ is laid in North India, Haridwar, Rishikesh and Delhi. The illiterate Kajri, we are told, has the ambition of climbing up the ladder to Tenth Class, Telfth, College,University. A Delhi based young man married and took her home in the jhuggi by the railway track going to New Delhi station. Their children even turned out to be drop outs even before primary school. Kajri went up to Gurgaon where she was employed as a maid by an old single woman, and was given a room with Fritdge TV etc. When Kajri’s daughter Babli came to her grandmother, drenched in rain one night, Kajri left the old woman. “The next morning Kajri was out of the multi-storey building. Holding Babli’s hand tightly, she started running away from the building as if it was going to collapse and fall on her.” It is a pathetic story of the shattered dreams of the poor.
‘The Forbidden Island’ is about Mohammed Ahmad, a fisherman in Male in Maldives who could not help a woman who could not save a woman who being dragged to the sea was shouting for help in English. He remembered the sentence in the Quran saying “helping those in distress is a rewardable charity...’ When his friend told him of a foreigner’s wife getting drowned he felt ‘a big lump in his throat and a thump over his chest.’
The tribal areas of Jharkhand drew the attention of this story writer. ‘The Native’ illustrates that. An alumnus of John Hopkins University, Manu works on the ‘Determinants for Health-seeking Behaviour in Baiga Tribe and starts a community based organization named Parivartan. This is the story of a reformer who suffers the desertion of a tribal girl he reforms and marries too. Sona takes their son to Delhi not allowing her son to stay in tribal location. Wonder it is that things like this happen many a time. There are two stories to illustrate that things like categories, principles and rules are not always uniformly applicable. There could be variations when one has to grin and bear them.
‘The Privileged’ is the story of the underprivileged winning the place of the privileged as per a provision of the U.N.O. Though Dr.Singh was on the top since there was a commitment to recruit at least 50% women staff he could not get what he wanted. Savitri the one ‘under privileged’ got the post. The reader reads in the story an astounding way female kids get eliminated by the Dai. ‘The village Dai would deliver the baby verify the gender and quickly go out to inform the head of the family who would nod or shake his head.
New York is the locale for the story ‘The Saviour’. The hurricane Sandy is the happening. There are descriptions or mentions of Yosemite National Park, Stanton Island and New Jersey. During the hurricane Manav was saved by his dog Damien and his 1940 typewriter Remington Rand. This is a very interesting story a good read if one does not look a gift horse in the mouth.
‘Turquoise Tulips’ which was used as the title of the collection is about the belief/superstition while talking about a boy’s chemotherapy circles for Lympophoblastic Leukemia type L3. The disaster of 26/11 too is another topic in the story. The end of the boy Ayush, Nina’s son is the centre of the story. The boy whispers in his mom’s ears before Christamas: “I told him (Santa Claus) “I don’t want any gift on Chrismas but wished for the green grass and turquoise tulips all around me.’ As ill luck would have it , for those who do not have the belief of Feb.2nd Grand Hog shadow originally a German superstition) the story is a useful read. The commentator in a husky voice moans “there seems to be some problem folks. Phil is inside the burrow....There is no weather prediction this year...” Ayush’s next therapy day was fixed for March 20. (Had the weather prediction come true, the boy could have lived for the next round.)
There is another story about forgiveness – ‘Vendetta’, this time. The story is with another locale - the north-west frontier, in Pakistan-Afghanistan border and about a family feud. The very little known locales and the qualities of different peoples, humane as well as devilish make the stories eminently readable and the dashes of medical ‘material’ are just illuminating too. ‘Want to go to my village’ has the background of Sopore in Kashmir and the writer being a Kashmirian/Indian the thought is usual. ‘Jananee jnmabhoomischa swargaadapi gareeyasi’ is the pronunciation of Ramji Himself in our epic. The story is about the love of birth place, love of (our) Mother Land, which is totally ours. A persona in the story remembers his grandfather saying this: ‘Wail over the fate of a helpless traveller, who feels defeated and stops walking when he is very close to his destination!’
‘Whining for Justice’ is the last and shortest story bringing out the nasty aspect of Indian actuality. Malti, a jhuggi dweller suffers a painful dilemma. Birju her husband is a rickshaw puller. Their daughter, the eight year old Komal was abducted but the villain’s face was seen by the unfortunate girl who reveals his name to her mother. She was killed a little later. Birju tells his wife that if she would not identify the culprit they would get the shelter (from the culprit) to ensure safety for their other two daughters.
A trained and practising Paediatrician associated with Public Health Research, Ashok has come up as a distinctive and captivating story writer. This book is not just a good read – it is a must read.