Tales of Tomorrow is a fascinating, engaging mix of both old and young story-tellers, guided by the belief that tomorrow’ always leaps out of the ubiquitous womb of yesterday’. Chosen from among a vast array of short fiction that ever-burgeoning Indian English has yielded over the past thirty years or more, Tales of Tomorrow endorses as well as interrogates the notion of Indianness, as it is often understood today. Some of these stories overpower us with the urgency of an insiders’ view, while others tantalise us with a double vision of an insider-outsider capturing all hues of the hydra-headed Indian reality. The collection reveals a new vibrant face of India, poised delicately on the edge of change and renewal. Drawn from different geographical regions, and representing the literary spirit, folk idiom and local culture of each, these stories authenticate a medley of bold, confident voices that are likely to resonate much longer than we may have imagined.
A well-known translator, teacher and theatre worker, Rana Nayar is Professor of English at Punjab University, Chandigarh. He has nine works of translation of his credit including Gurdial Singh’s Night of the Half-Moon, Parsa, The Survivors, Earthy Tones, Mohan Bhandari’s The Eye of a Doe & other stories arid Beeba Balwant’s Tale of a Cursed Tree. Apart from translations, he also has a book on an American dramatist, EdwardAlbee: Towards a Typology of Relationships. A Charles Wallace India Trust Awardee (1999), he won a commendation award for translation jointly sponsored by the British Council and Katha in 1994 and very recently, his translation of Baba Farid’s poetry won him the first prize in an all-India competition organised by the Sahitya Akademi. He has also been active in theatre and has directed nearly a dozen plays.
Often dismissed as a ‘poor cousin of the novel’ or as reconnaissance literature, the short story is one form of literary sub-genre that has always had an enduring appeal across languages. Histories and cultures, With the intrusion of ‘narrative’ into every known sphere of human experience, from economics to politics, from sociology to psychoanalysis, from science to religion, its appeal has naturally grown, not lessened. Though the ‘modern short story’ doesn’t have a very long history of evolution, story as a form is perhaps as old, if not older, as the history of human communication itself.
To put it differently, man began to invent, create and tell stories as soon as he had mastered the art of communication, first through signs and gestures and then through language-Somewhere this hard-to-resist, almost timeless habit of storytelling, could be said to have originated in a very child-like predisposition of man toward re-creating, even falsifying or fictionalising reality. For a long time, storytelling continued to flourish within the oral tradition passing on from the family elders to the younger members, from one generation to another, from one narrative com munity to another and finally from one language/culture to an other.
Though it has firmly grounded itself within the ‘written tradition’ now, its primeval sense of ‘orality’ continues to have its archival, residual presence. No wonder, stories abound in all languages and cultures (highly literate and developed as well as semi-literate and less developed), and appeal to all sections of people, regardless of age, personal preference, class, race, religion or culture. For reasons of economy in terms of time, space and attention, short story is perhaps the form most suited to our fast- paced lives, especially when people engage with literature in a flyby-night mode, in-between changing trains or boarding flights. Though essentially an ancient art form, short story continues to enjoy great thrust and appeal in our times, too, despite the changing tenor of life, language, history and or cultural practices.
Popular perception has it that, as a literary sub-genre, the short story is essentially of Indian origin, and this is certainly not far from the truth, either. Most literary historians Knot only in the East but also in the West) would happily affirm this proposition that much before Aesop’s Fables or Biblical Parables surfaced in the history of human consciousness, India had a fairly long and established lineage of short story. which could safely be traced back to the Pauranik tales, the Katha Sarit sagar and tales from the Panchatantra. One of the earliest accounts we have of ‘story.’ in its secular incarnation, of course, is to be found in the Panchatantra. a collection of tales that definitely does predate Aesop’s Fables and whose authorship remains suspect. Often hailed for its moral philosophy, .Panchatantra is truly a unique and remarkable work of storytelling as it blends and harmonizes art and artistry with discourse, intricacy of structure with maxim and precept, overarching macro frame with the micro ones.
Storytelling, as an art, has been practised in India right from the ancient times and its history often dates back to the earliest literature, which formed an integral part of the rituals performed during the Vedic and epic times THE Mahabharata rats tells us how the storytelling sessions were held in the intervals between the performance of the sacrifices that often stretched over a long period of time, days, weeks, even months. This is how the twin concepts of story as an interregnum between two acts or performances and story-within-a-story emerged in our context- It is said that ‘little stories’ are also found, albeit in an embedded form, in the Brahmana literature (exegetical texts for the sacrificial ritual; composed around 800-900 BC) between explanations of the rituals of sacrifice, For instance, one may point out here how the stories of Sakuntala and urvasi-Pururavas, which later provided Kalidasa both inspiration and material for two of his great plays, are found in the Satpatha Brahamana. The Mahabharata is, by common consensus, acknowledged as a veritable treasure-house of stories.
The Panchatantra and the Jataka tales are among the oldest surviving works of storytelling that strive, rather successfully for some kind of artistic cohesiveness, too. Like the Mahabharata. Panchatantra too, belongs to the age-old tradition of oral literature n India. And this sense of orality is inscribed in the open-ended and inconclusive nature of these ‘Emboxed Tales’-the tales set within a frame tale. There is another kind of inconclusiveness we need to talk about, which largely has to do with the way in which the ‘stories’ from all kinds of sources travel from one mode of articulation to another, from one medium into another. It is interesting to see how the stories don’t lust travel from the oral traditions to the written ones, but also enter as unobtrusively into plastic arts or performing arts, for that matter. If one wants to understand this complex process of how stories travel from one kind of art form to another, all one has to do is to look through the long Extended journey of the Mahabharata from the oral to the written, from the plastic to the living art forms, In reiterating this proposition about storytelling being essentially an Indian art form in origin, my purpose is certainly not to set up any false sense of East-West hierarchy and/or dichotomy. Those who know better would affirm that while the Panchatantra did originate in India it ultimately travelled across the world, assuming new disguises within the languages and cultures it stepped into. It’s widely known that from the Sanskrit, Panchatantra travelled to Persia through Pehlevi, and then into Hebrew and Latin before going finally into its European incarnations in the Spanish Italian and English languages.
The story of the Panchatantra ‘s spread and reach across the world could possibly be interpreted in two distinct ways: either to mean that the narratives have a universal appeal and acceptability or that they have a universal presence. as perhaps Roland Barthes would have us believe. When Roland Barthes says that the narratives are every-where, he only emphasises the universal presence. not necessarily the universalism of the narratives. He recognises the fact that the narratives are born within specific cultures, and also operate or function best within the range of well-defined narrative communities. Therefore, while emphasising the universal presence of narratives, it’s equally important to stress that the different language systems; geographical regions and cultural matrices tend to construct ‘narratives’ or stories in vastly diverse ways.
It’s equally important to emphasise that the Indian narrative tradition never was and never has been a unified or a monolithic literary or sub-literary tradition; Rather; as GN. Devy would have us believe about the traditions of Indian literary historiography, we have always had multiple traditions of narratives, too: as diverse as are the languages within the framework of which they probably function. So numerous and so diverse are these traditions that sometimes it is difficult, if not impossible, to either harmonise or conceptualise them in terms of a neat formula or an over-simplified proposition. And yet it’s within the ‘dialogic space’ of these numerous traditions of storytelling embedded in diverse Indian languages, including English, that the larger questions relating to the Indianness of Indian literature can possibly be debated or negotiated.
Though the art of storytelling essentially had its early beginnings in the Indian context, the modern short story available in all Indian languages, including English, could easily be seen as a twentieth century phenomenon. It is as much a product of the indigenous forms of narration, both in the oral and written traditions, as it is of the European forms that shot into prominence in the middle of the nineteenth century, Since then, the Indian short story could be said to have gone through several avataras, ranging from the realistic to symbolic, the traditional to the modern, the progressive to the experimental, and the existential to the documentary. So much so, this particular sub-genre could easily be posited as a sire of aesthetic and ideological confusion and/or contestation, a site for testing out the Indianness of our modern literatures.
The Indianness of our literatures in general and short story in particular, has now for quite long been a subject of academic debate. Whenever we sit down to reflect on this question, we often find ourselves up against the competing, often conflicting, claims of the English us, the Bhashas, the Metropolitan us the Regional, the National us, the Local, the Global us, the Native etc. Though such claims no longer constitute an oppositional discourse, as was the case some decades ago, they continue to provide both the synergy and symbiosis for the ‘dialogic space within which Indianness must ultimately be cited. It is another matter that despite all that, what it is or could possibly mean to most of us largely remains an unsettled question. One thing, however, is clear, Indianness has ceased to be an essentialist category, an amorphous, indefinable paradox or a spiritual construct. With multiplicity invading its restrictive boundaries and social/historical tensions creating internal rupture, the cultural spaces of Indianness stand breached, even interrogated. It is now a contested category, and its problematic lies in the way in which the linguistic, historical, political, religious, experiential or aesthetic contents continue to define or redefine the contours of its cultural spaces.
In the kind of context we are located today to suggest that English is lust another Indian language would only have a sense of deja vu about it. As such questions have already ceased to carry much relevance, no one worth her salt would possibly risk her reputation by raising them. Though English has already been accepted as a fait accompli and sometimes perceived more Indian than most Indian languages, the questions regarding its internal relations with other Indian languages admit of no easy resolutions, With English increasingly becoming an instrument of the dominant, global culture, and the other Indian languages showing an equally rapacious tendency to shed their conservatism (so as to seek a foothold in this ever-growing market of English translations), the balance of power has certainly tilted in favour of English. This process, which should have ordinarily led to greater acceptance and recognition of the Indian languages worldwide, has ironically, pushed them deeper into defensive postures. Apart from the potential threat of homogenization and erasure of differences, it has also raised several uneasy questions of spatial representation, power dispersal and politics of cultural production of Indian literatures vis-a-vis the English language.
Some of these questions were definitely agitating my mind when I set about reading, selecting and editing stories for this particular anthology. Though the Sahitya Akadermi had given me a clear mandate in favour of preparing an anthology of short stories in English published over the last ten years or so. I kept wondering all along as to how I could push the limits of my brief, without violating it. One of the ways in which I could have possibly created the necessary ‘dialogic space’ for this highly crucial debate on Indianness was by opting for more expansive category of ‘Indian short stories in English’ rather than limiting myself to a restrictive label of ‘Shun stories in Indian English.’ However, this kind of positioning on my part, which had definite ideological ‘over’ and undertones, didn’t find much favour with or support from the Sahitya Akaderni. As a result, I have had to give up the idea of including in this anthology some fourteen short stories from almost as many Indian bhashas, something I had originally planned to do. Now I have come round to the view that an anthology is perhaps not even the best place for locating or articulating an ideological positioning, howsoever significant. This is how this anthology has come to acquire its present form and characte with only the stories originally written in English scrupulously included in it.
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