By Fehmida Zakeer
Title: Immoderate Men
Publisher: Speaking Tiger Books
As the title indicates, the eleven stories in the collection Immoderate Men focuses on the unrestrained response of the main characters as they encounter seemingly small quirks of fate that go on to have great implications in their lives. The author who has used a pseudonym, Shikhandin, has made it a point to include stories about men from different classes of society as well as from different age groups making each story unique in its perspective. Though the point of view is that of the male gender, the narratives do not actually delve into the psyche of men as such; rather, the portrayal revolves around how the principal characters respond to the attitudes and events in the lives of the women around them.
‘Salted Pinkies’ is, however, different. It focuses on the efforts of a young man who resorts to an extreme step to escape from a society that is not ready to accept a different language of sexuality. Some stories trace the calibration of marital relationships, the strength of the bond between husband and wife. In the first story, we see a couple preparing for a banquet for their son-in-law, making all efforts to ensure a sumptuous spread with all the right foods. But when the ingredient for their star dish disappears from the garden, the excellent chemistry between the couple helps them to deal with the different problems that come up. However, another story on the same theme, ‘Black Prince’, paints a picture of domestic discontent that drives the husband to develop an unusual passion — that of growing roses in his garden which helps him in a strange way to confront the disturbance lurking beneath the surface of his life.
Empathy is the word that comes to mind when reading the stories in this anthology. As events unfurl, the reader cannot but feel moved at the circumstances that the main characters have to face or come to terms with. This is especially true of those stories which highlight the emotions of older men in relation to their grandchildren — in ‘Ducklings’ we read about a grandfather’s helplessness in being unable to save his granddaughter’s pets while in ‘Hijras on the Highway’, we see another helpless grandfather pleading with the hijras to return his grandchild as passengers in the bus travelling with him watch mutely without offering help. A seemingly simple story told in the form of email messages between a grandfather and grandson, subtly points out the dying dreams of an aged man whose son and family are far beyond reaching distance. ‘Vanishing Man’ is a powerful story that details the slow erosion of a man after his retirement until he literally vanishes from existence.
A couple of stories end ambiguously, as if the writer wants readers to arrive at their own conclusions. The technique certainly got me thinking more about these stories, prompting a re-read to make sure that no clues were missed the first time round. The writer also occasionally throws a jibe mocking the rituals of society thereby adding a thread of humour into the narrative:
Shasti Babu’s concerns, however, were of an immediate nature – what to feed his son-in-law for Jamai Shasti. For as, Shasti Babu well knew, the onus of keeping the daughter’s in-laws happy by showing his eternal gratitude towards them for having selected her fell squarely on his shoulder.
Mind you, this was in the early eighties, when we called our city Calcutta (or Cal for short) in English and Kolkata in Bengali, and the transition from one to the other posed no questions of disloyalty to the mother tongue.
Immoderate Men is an eclectic collection of stories that includes slice of life narratives as well as finely structured stories with multiple layers. It is an enjoyable collection, one that you can take and read again and while doing so discover some nugget of information you might have missed the previous times.
Fehmida Zakeer is an independent writer based in Chennai, India. Her articles have come out in various Indian and international publications including The Hindu Literary Review, New Indian Express, Prevention, Better Homes and Garden, Women’s Feature Service, Women’s International Perspective, Azizah, Herbs for Health, Good Housekeeping, NPR: The Salt, The Establishment, Hakai and others.