While travelling through an arid region, when you suddenly get under the shade of an improbable mango tree and at that very instant an unexpected cool breeze descends on you from a suddenly appearing ocean, you call that a miracle, a blessing, a fortune. The book , ’Dangling Gandhi’ lands on us, thus.
A non-intrusive and non-preachy book of short stories, ‘Dangling Gandhi’ arrives on the table with such unsuspecting gentleness and refreshing warmth that you begin to feel like a calf let out of captivity. With so much moribund and melancholic literature all around, ‘Dangling Gandhi’ liberates you from the ever present sordidness of thought.
The collection is multi-ethnic, has multi-lingual characters and is a multi-national one – multi-national literally. Author Jayanthi Sankar doesn’t treat the reader as a child that needs constant and repetitive chiding or instruction. She doesn’t tell stories, but shows the events in their kaleidoscopic splendour.
Among the many stories that adorn this collection, here are some that made me read them again to devour the details in their entirety.
‘Dangling Gandhi’, the story, is a fine juxtaposition of the different age groups. The means of communication serves as an indicator of the generation gap between the participants in the conversation. The intelligent use of ‘WhatsApp’, the messaging platform, is a pointer to the author’s sense of attention to detail.
The Gandhi icon, used as a metaphor, when dangling, presents the dilemma of the current generation – whether to use the icon or not, while showing, at the same time, that the previous generation too had other icons of the Indian liberation movement. And that is why Gandhi is shown to be dangling. That a character in the story uses Gandhi as an auspicious object, a lucky charm, is slightly reminiscent of the the situation in India where the different political parties have been using Gandhi for their own political purposes – either by way of supporting his policies, or by way of demonising his ideas. Either way, a lucky charm. The character that uses Gandhi icon in the story is Chinese by ethnicity. This also delivers a subtle message that Indians, at present, probably have no use for the icon.
‘Mobile Dictionary’, another story, also uses this intelligent interplay of two different modes of communication ( as in Dangling Gandhi) – verbal and written. While the verbal one happens in Singapore, the written communication happens in India. With no reference to the ‘From’ and ‘To’ in the India part, the plot, while easy to decipher, presents an imaginative way to convey a different line in the story. Ingenuity at its best.
‘Punkah Wallah’ is a judicious mixture of human kindness and selfishness that occur simultaneously.
“Read Singapore’ brought in fond memories of the Ang Mo Kio library while presenting the reality of an honestly practical Singapore education system. While the government promotes mother language learning, the takers are few. Nevertheless the effort is noble.
‘Beyond Borders’ presents the contemporary reality of s Singapore bus ride while at the same time projecting the pleasant innocence of a nerdy little boy. A compilation of contrasting human traits.
’The Peasant Girl’ depicts the often-heard-of employer-maid relationship amidst a soft romance background.
‘Am I a jar’ brings forth the not-so-often spoken about LGBT and queer matters. An eyeopener especially on the specific lingo.
Most of the stories deliver a sense of history in a non-intrusive manner where history stands a mute testimony to the happenings. Some startling historical aspects, like the Rickshaw Strike in Singapore, are pointers to the paths that countries have trodden in their journeys towards modernity.
Author Jayanthi Sankar deserves all praise for bringing this veritable read that spans across the South East Asian and Asian landscapes while dwelling on both contemporary and historical matters.
New age writing with non-interfering history in the background.