Review: Loss and Laws and Other Short Stories by Jayanthi Sankar
by Amaruvi Devanathan
The book ‘Loss and Laws’ (Kitaab, 2015) is an English translation of bilingual writer Jayanthi Sankar’s Tamil short stories. I had the opportunity to participate in its launch in Singapore Writer’s Festival this year.
‘Loss and Laws’ – The law, however democratically it would have been framed, if it has lost its human touch and therefore does not value human dignity and has to be imposed just because it is in the statute book, is nothing short of draconian diktat. The story flows so mellifluously that we get to travel along with the protagonist and begin to feel the pressures of a domestic help’s day. The way the story ends reflects the stark reality and comes as a rude jolt, making you get up from your easy chair and look angrily at the society, truth, laws and the sense of utter helplessness against the three forces.
‘The Smuggler’ is a subtle depiction of human helplessness and the acknowledgement of the same. In a fast paced Singapore when the day ends even before it begins and where people forget to breathe in the rush to carry on with their daily business of life in the MRT, the interaction of a tattered Chinese gentleman with the passengers of the train is not given the seriousness it deserves. When the conversation that the gentlemen has with each passenger is not known to us, there is one soul who understands that. The twist is, the protagonist doesn’t even talk to that one person who finally understands the situation and reacts suitably. The question ‘what did the Chinese gentlemen speak?’ is left to the reader, in a classic short story style. This story ensures that the reader participates in the evolution of the story and makes the reader an author as well. A story is defined by what is left unsaid. This is one such, a classic, I would say.
‘Service’ – This may be a uniquely Singaporean story where there is an agency or service company to do anything, but the feelings expressed are universal. The real reason for the happenings in the story is not elaborated but there is no need for any elaboration. The fast paced life, mad pursuit of wealth and hence nothing else being a matter of concern – any or all of these could be the reason for the happenings while the death of humanity is compensated from an unexpected quarter.
‘The Inner Pages’ paints the world of teenagers in a Singapore school. The pains of bullying – cyber bullying included, friendship formation, breakages and the heartbreaks associated with such events set in Singapore’s multi-cultural land scape, make an interesting read.
‘The Axe Oil’ depicts the strength of subconscious affection of a daughter towards her father despite their mutual personal animosity in the terrible condition that they are in. Quite a heart warming story.
‘The Jade Bangle’ depicts the pain of loneliness due to old age, the improbable- elsewhere-but-commonplace-in-Singapore affection between an old and dying Chinese lady and a Tamil grocery shop owner are depicted in a moving manner. The story stands out as a repudiation of Singapore’s multi-cultural philosophy.
The blank page after each story seems to signify the space and time one needs to stop to ponder over the story, get the essence of the just concluded story in full, make the mind blank again and then enter into the subsequent story so that one gets on with a new story without any carried-over emotions and thoughts from the previous story. I used the space to record my comments on each of the stories.
The 17 stories that the book has demonstrate that Jayanthi Sankar is easily one of the best writers of Singapore.