The condition of human soul: Review of Kafka in Ayodhya by Zafar Anjum

A slim book of short stories that covers a vast territory: Moazzam Sheikh in The News on Sunday

KafkaFCThe prolific and multifaceted Zafar Anjum has given his readers a very slim book — not even hundred pages — of eight short stories while covering a vast territory. I don’t mean strictly in a physical sense. The reader cannot fail to notice the stories’ emotional register. It is not just a matter of inducting characters into fiction from varied ethnic, national and linguistic backgrounds or setting stories in political flashpoints, it is also having to deal with our modern and post-modern sensibilities.

The polarisation of his emotional preoccupation is evident when one story deals with the daily grind of a young, married office clerk while the one preceding it deals with authorial indignities, evident in more than one story.

I had enjoyed Zafar Anjum’s earlier book of short stories The Singapore Decalogue for its prose, characters and grasp of characters’ emotional reality. It also had a tighter focus and Zafar had put a finger on the right pulse. That does not seem to be the case for his newer collection Kafka in Ayodhya. In a way, this is natural for many writers now living outside their zones of comfort, often settled in countries where the mix of languages and dominant culture is a force to reckon with. This displaced author, a citizen of the post-modern world, is a global writer, unsure of many things such as a distinct voice, language register, target audience, market, local issues, craft and so on.

This is not a bad or good thing, just a primary condition that affects the writer. Zafar, too, is no exception, and to thicken the plot, he carries personal contradictions/ dilemmas to his prose. The title story, thus, seems like an apt window to the collection. The ultimate outsider of the modern prose Gregor Samsa, in the caged care of the venerable Kafka himself, has been summoned by an Indian Urdu poet going by the name of N. Whether the initial N. stands for Non-entity is beside the point; it suggests that circumstances demand the Urdu poet to remain anonymous. When the poet arrives to receive Herr Kafka, he’s wearing a green shirt (his Islamic identity?), a pair of blue jeans (ticket to modernity?), but his welcome, in the guest’s words, is typical Indian — an unconscious leap from the immortal Mukesh’s mera joota hai Japani!

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