A place to go to
[A book review from someone very close to my heart.]
Relationships come from a place of loneliness. Every individual in one’s loneliness seeks another and in that relationship is still alone. This is regardless of the type of relationship we enter. The core, layered with so many people we try to be or become in the presence of others, continues to be lonesome.
Each one of Pranaya’s characters [in City of Dreams] are lonely. That confinement to self, despite social intermingling, is probably the most beautiful thing about an individual. Because, it is who we really are. And that comes across clearly in the first story in the collection, ‘City of Dreams’, as the child Kanti starts walking into the labyrinth of Asan, testing his confidence and wearing out his mother’s patience. The story takes the reader on a journey of Kanti’s life, where it’s easy to lose the way while crossing forgotten alleyways and abandoned yards. And although, at first, it might seem like the writer doesn’t have much to say, the story leads you to a place where you meet yourself.
Pranaya’s stories evolve. So do his characters. The first draft of his story, ‘The Smoker’, which I read in 2010, read differently from the one in his newly released book, City of Dreams. There was Pranaya in the story. Pranaya, the narrator. Pranaya, the protagonist. And there was the ever-elusive Maya. Overtime, the characters seem to have matured, to have become fuller. Pranaya becomes more enunciated as the narrator. Maya becomes more believable, and therefore, even more elusive. As Pranaya the protagonist chases Maya and her presence in the story, you become a part of the pursuit. You want a denouement of some kind for the characters. But you also start tripping on how everything in the book is open-ended and surreal. And you want to become Maya — the Maya in your lover’s poems, the Maya who is love and illusion at the same time. The Maya who is loved.
‘The Child’, another story in the collection, is a story you will want to reread. And when you do, every sentence will take on a meaning far more deeper than that revealed the first time. Seema isn’t a particularly nice person. She can be selfish, confused, hurt and is capable of hurting. And it’s these qualities that make her real and strikes a chord with the reader, making you want to embrace her. This humane treatment of Seema’s character is what we find in all of Pranaya’s stories. Like Maya. Maya seems perfect, yet flawed. And Maya in ‘Maya’ is flawed, too. She’s a prostitute trying to live her day, trying to conceal the world in her little head. There’s something perfectly beautiful about this character, with her own daily battles, little dreams, and curiosities.
With the repetitions of names and characters, the writer weaves a time warp.
The teenager Rabi in ‘Dashain’, whose sole purpose is to impress his childhood sweetheart and family friend, becomes a person of intrigue as we explore his psyche. We watch with disgust as Rabi brings the khukuri down on the neck of a bleating goat, leaving the animal helplessly half killed, severing his own possibility of clinching love. Yet, we feel a pang of suffering for this boy. And we instantly know it is empathy for his characters that makes Pranaya’s writing so easy to relate to. When the writer comes from a place of empathy, there’s always so much to observe, to show and yet, never betray the characters. The way you would do with your babies.
‘Knife in the water’ isn’t a particularly likeable story for its banal treatment. But the strength of character of ‘She’ rattles the reader. Several things about this woman resonates with women who live a life of non-existence because their entire lives are devoted to ensuring the ‘He’ has care and dignity. She herself must hope for nothing.
‘The Presence of God’, infused with the surreal, is well-scripted, moving almost like a short film. Coming from an [amateur] filmmaker, it’s not too surprising that Pranaya is able to pattern graphic details into plot so seamlessly. The details of the stranded boys and girls watching a gory ritual transpire in the middle of nowhere unravels before the readers with shot sizes and lens movements intact.
Similarly, when Anam finds himself kneeling next to a man who’s just met with an accident, the description of this near-death situation is so visceral, if you happen to be one of those people who’ve been there, you know exactly what place the writer is coming from. The same goes for ‘Our Ruin’. Every individual, who has had a school and school friends has been there. It’s one of the stories I least expected to see in the collection, probably because it happens to be a story from long ago. The story is a recollection of so many afternoons, evenings, nights, spent with childhood friends, as your relationship with them sometimes broaches blurred lines. Friendships take on new meanings. Sometimes, friends drift because you forget to nurture and earn them over the years.
“My story was about coincidence of times. A fragment of time, a slice of time, an eternity of time, it was all the same, said the story. It was about forking time—time that chooses and the overlaps that occur. Time was a labyrinth and this story was a ball of string,” says Pranaya the narrator in ‘The Smoker’ and it gets the reader thinking about how it is that stories like these entangle and ensnare, making our lives whole.
Every story in City of Dreams is a jewel for a reader like me, who also happens to be a friend. But what strikes me most of all about Pranaya’s writing is, written in its simplicity, every sentence shines in its straightforwardness and the beauty of details- “navy blue pants with crisp white shirt. He would wear one set for three days and the second set for two”. Simple writing comes from a place of honestly and understanding of life. Life is what is always changing, always evolving. Like Pranaya’s characters.
Good writing is what makes you want to not just keep reading, but to read again and again. Over a decade since the first time I read The God of Small Things, I still go back to chapters every now and then, just so that I can go to a place I like. City of Dreams has just become another of my favourite places to go to.