Review by Usha Bande
How, if Kafka were to step out of time? And what if he were to land in Ayodhya? He would just shrug his shoulders and laughing heartily say, “A joke, indeed! Of Borgesian proportion, ah!” That is what Kafka does in Zafar Anjum’s charming book Kafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories (Kitaab, 2016). In story after story it is either Kafka or his Kafkaesque view of life that gives the stories their twisted appeal. When he (Kafka) encounters the confused media asking him about the structure in Ayodhya, his reply is characteristically evasive, “Leave the structure as it is” he tells them and confounds the media further as he declares, “Incompletion is also a quality, a facet of nobility. At least, that is what I do with my works.” (p.21). Ingenious, indeed! Nothing in the scheme of things reaches finality and that is how tradition and innovation overlap, merge and get reconstituted. Soon one realizes that Zafar Anjum is not interested in any particular place –Ayodhya or Gaza or Singapore; he is directing his shafts at the general condition of existence, the absurdity of it all: the manifold facets of contemporary life, the hilarious, the meaningless, the irritating and yet the plausible and logical.
Kafka in Ayodhya is a tiny book — just 92 pages — containing eight stories that have minute observations on/of life and its vagaries. Every character seems to be wriggling with a sense of being trapped: here is a disgruntled lower middle-class man for whom rats become the prime objects of hunt (‘The Rats’); there, a tear-soaked tale of suffering in war-torn Gaza (‘The Thousand-Yard Stare’); and yet again an author’s enigmatic quest (‘E.D’). All the eight stories, published in various magazines of repute, are different in themes and settings but somewhere underneath each has a cognizable thread running – something intriguing with the curious existential manipulation of fate.