Smart Stories: Elen Turner reviews Kafka in Ayodhya by Zafar Anjum
The title and the epigraph of Zafar Anjum’s Kafka in Ayodhya give a good indication of the central concerns of the short story collection: for the wounded ‘idea of India’. The stories within the short collection are dark as well as humorous, international and grounded in India, and mix surrealism with realism.
As well as the titular story, Kafka in Ayodhya, there are Kafkaesque touches through the stories. Farce, dark humour, metamorphoses of people into things, and things coming to life. For example, the story ‘The Rats’ ends, creepily:
‘The thought of this made him scurry. He did not even notice the dappled shadow that ran along with him through the maze of the streets.’
In using this surrealist mode to make social commentary, I was reminded of Gujarati Jewish author Esther David’s The Man with Enormous Wings. In this novella, Gandhi returns to earth as an angel and watches, horrified, as Gujarat succumbed to carnage in 2002. The same sense of witnessing the crumbling of society is interspersed throughout Kafka in Ayodhya; an author asking, through his characters, ‘how did we come to this?’