Review by Usha Bande

KafkaFCHow, 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.

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.

by Ranga Chandrarathne

“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
― Robert Frost

“To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.”
― Oscar Wilde

KafkaFCAlthough coloured by diverse incidents that occurr against equally diverse socio-cultural backdrops, the common thread that runs throughout Zafar Anjum’s fascinating short stories in Kafka in Ayodhya (Kitaab, Singapore; 2015)  is the sheer vibrancy of life in its infinite verities and under trying circumstances. The dramatic personae may change from one country to another, from one culture to another; yet, life goes on unabated amidst chaos. It is the rich emotions, pathos and unshakable kinships that forms the contours of life throughout the world. That universal truth resonates throughout the short stories in the collection Kafka in Ayodhya.

One of the poignant short stories in Anjum’s book which is truly a tribute to life and unshakable kinship that sustains it is ‘The Thousand –Yard Stare’. Apart from the moving story and the masterly portrayal of real life characters, the short story is full of vividly realised passages that symbolically represent not only the harsh ground reality in a war zone or rather conflict zone but also how that backdrop shapes the lives of the masses who are caught up in the power play.

by Indeewaara Thilakarathne

KafkaFCIn this week’s column, I examine how Singapore-based writer Zafar Anjum has depicted socio-political reality through his collection of Short Stories titled Kafka in Ayodhya and other short stories (Kitaab, 2015). What is significant in his seemingly organic prose is his innate ability to symbolically represent the harsh realities in the socio-economic and cultural sphere through the eyes of the man in the street.

The book comprises eight short stories namely Kafka in Ayodhya, The Lone Fighter, The Rats, Waiting for the Angels, E.D., The Revolt, The Thousand –Yard Stare and Ima.

Zafar Arjum has woven myriad complexities into his skillfully crafted short stories so that they are almost natural in representations, often depicting life in diverse parts of the globe.

In the title storey Kafka in Ayodhya , the author masterly captures the complex ground realities as: “ When we got down to Ayodhya, a small ancient town with a Hindu mythological past, I was struck by its simplicity. It was a place that seemed to be content in its ordinariness, a featureless wasteland. Looking at its topography, the misalignment of structures, the smallness of its huts and buildings, the dirt and the dust, the idea of justice seemed asymmetrical to this place. The town seemed readymade to bear injustice and violence.

‘This is Ayodhya where Lord Ram was born,’ N. said, as we walked towards the controversial structure which was claimed by both Muslims and Hindus. The structure which used to be a mosque built in the time of Mughal emperor Babur, looked like a mottled dolphin, torpedoed to death, lying lifeless at the bottom of the sea of hatred. ‘Ram, the hero of legendary Ramayana, was a maryada purush-a man of principles. When his wife Sita was rescued and brought back to Ayodhya after she was abducted by Ravana, people doubted her purity. Ran listened to what his people demanded and asked Sita to prove her purity by walking through a bed of fire. So judicious and public spirited that great man was”

by  Monica Arora

KafkaFCKafka in Ayodhya and Other Short Stories

by Zafar Anjum

Format: Paperback (Ebook not available yet)
Imprint: Kitaab
Published: November 2015
Subject: Fiction
ISBN: 978-981-09-7276-9
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“An ordinary man can enjoy breakfasting on juice and rye bread.

But when you are underfed, scorned, miserable or just plain bored, you don’t want to eat dull wholesome food.

You want something a little more colourful, exciting, tastier, meatier and juicier.”

These words by young and contemporary authoress RS Vern describe that urge in artists, authors, designers and other creative people to break the monotony of the mundane and the predictable and create something “a little less ordinary”!

Kafka in Ayodhya and other Short Stories, written by Zafar Anjum, the founder of Singapore-based literary journal Kitaab, is a brilliant experiment in quirky and offbeat literature with a Kafkaesque twist (pun intended!) Written in an easy interactive style with a twist at the end in most tales, these stories are delightful and have what it takes to keep the reader engrossed till the very end. In that, the author has established his mastery over his craft!

The title story, “Kafka in Ayodhya” is a figment of Zafar’s very fertile imagination, in which he juxtaposes the inimitable German literary genius in the backdrop of the Ayodhya riots and creates that confused dilemma so often associated with Kafka’s work. “The Lone Fighter” is about the struggle of a poet to get his works published. A funny yet poignant lament on the plight of some literary geniuses!