Book Review: Horizon Afar by Jayanthi Sankar
By Lakshmi Menon
Title: Horizon Afar
Author: Jayanthi Sankar
Trabslated by: P Muralidharan
Publisher: Kitaab International
Price: Rs 299
Horizon Afar is a collection of short stories by Jayanthi Sankar, translated from their original Tamil by P Muralidharan and published by Kitaab International. While it falls neatly into the rapidly growing, ever-fertile genre of diasporic literature, this collection is interesting in the myriad glimpses that it accords us of the Tamil diaspora in Singapore.
The experiences of Tamil immigrants in a multicultural country like Singapore are outlined by the author, herself a member of that very community – this is belied by the intimacy with which she writes about them. “Won’t she crawl anymore?” a despairing father asks of his wife, on learning that his child whose early years he has missed on account of working abroad, has now learned to walk on her own. The average reader can easily feel the wistful, quiet sadness in his question, and a reader who is familiar with the immigrant experience knows the truth behind the emotion, of a parent who has missed their child growing up.
Singapore is home to immigrants from China, from Malaysia, and from India, and Sankar is subtle in the comments in her stories on the politics that occur within and between these communities. The struggle to find one’s own identity is always of great significance in stories about diasporic communities, and Horizon Afar is no different. Characters agonise about how to balance themselves between the Tamil families that they were born into and the Chinese ones that they have chosen to marry or otherwise belong to. There are characters constantly struggling to negotiate between the home that has been left behind and the new home, a trope that gains fresh aspects in Sankar’s simple, yet direct mode of storytelling.
The author also doesn’t shy away from addressing the dark side of the immigrant experience – there are stories that discuss the very real practice of human trafficking between India and Singapore, of women who are promised jobs but end up sold into sex work. A strain of truth runs through these stories: the truth of real human suffering as characters leave for foreign lands out of the desperation of their lives in India, only to find disappointment and despair awaiting them.
Sankar’s stories shift their focus between the diasporic Indians to other migrant workers, belonging to Chinese, Malaysian and other ethnicities. While the customs and names of the people may change often, there is a certain universality to the immigrant experience, the quintessence of which Horizon Afar manages to capture.
The reviewer Lakshmi Menon tries to concentrate on her day job teaching English to college students, but she is constantly distracted by shiny things. She dreams of someday winning awards for the best piece of unwritten fiction.