This delightful collection of short stories hangs upon an interesting device: all of the characters come from the village of “Pambunkavu, a fictional village situated in the Malabar region of Kerala, a southern Indian state.” The first half of the book features incidents in the lives of those “At Home,” and the second half looks at those “In Exile.”
M.K. Ajay (Ajay Manissery Konchery) is a writer who knows about home and exile, having lived his life in peregrinations throughout the Indian subcontinent.
These stories are reminiscent both of the fantastical creation of Borges and Marquez, and of the old Twilight Zone television series, in which the setting is never precisely what it at first appears. An elderly couple has traveled to Mumbai, to a park where they can watch their beloved son Anil who “wanted desperately to see them.” As they lovingly observe Anil sitting at a distance with his new young bride, they remark upon how happy their son looks, “Didn’t you feel the fragrance around them as if love bloomed like a rose garden?” Then the old man asks his wife, “How do I look now?” and she replies, “I don’t know. I haven’t seen you after we had that accident. I can just smell you, hear you, and feel your presence through my sixth sense…”
In a similar sketch, we follow the thoughts of a man taking a trip from Pambunkavu to Oslo and winding up in a mental institution. A writer is approached by a man who was a minor character in one of his novels, an idea that Ajay attributes to Pirandello. A student becomes enthralled with the mysterious emails of an etheric being named “bhikshu” who warns him, as his attachment to bhikshu’s enigmatic wisdom reaches its height, “bhikshu is observing silence for a few days and then he will set out on a long journey…” Two men of prodigious learning discuss philosophy late into the night.
The next morning, their real roles in life are revealed as one must die and the other must live with the loss of an intellectual companion.
M.K. Ajay is a well-received writer in his native land. This slim volume introduces him to a wider audience.