Not for us the regular stands, we will only watch a cricket match in the VIP enclosure. Cattle class is for the herds, we travel business or first. Average is not an option when extraordinary is available as well.
When will this stop? When will this fascination with the remarkable take a turn towards the reality of our situations? When will we realize that we DO lead mundane lives? In fact, almost the same life as the person next to us.
Consider this. Playtime is supreme during childhood and late nights are a mysterious, out-of-reach goal. Then comes puberty and experimentations with our sexuality. And parents begin to turn dictators around this time. Closing the door of your bedroom can raise eyebrows quicker than a naked man on the road. College and university start knocking on that door very soon, setting the tone for future careers. Love happens in the middle of all this or after, and then marriage, kids and family life follow. Death, money troubles, divorce or disease – all make an appearance at some point. Peppering our mundane lives with a little flavor. In some lives, lessons are learnt. In others, they’re bypassed for the road more travelled.
One adjective remains constant, lurking in the shadows, ready to step into the light. Mundane never leaves.
Which is why, Kailash Srinivasan’s debut novel, What Happened to That Love, hits a chord somewhere. His collection of short stories is so commonplace that any of them could be your stories. Or mine. And he tells them too, in the most ordinary narrative.
In Anytime Now, an old couple on the brink of death clutches on to frail existence, each wanting to die before the other so that loneliness does not engulf them. Sounds familiar? How about the next story, Brownies? A man of Indian origin in Australia lives with racial prejudice and the threat of violence, wanting all the time to come back to his motherland. His turmoil and his helplessness at his situation play havoc in his own mind. Or the next – What Happened to That Love? Two people fall out of love and move on to other people. And are then struck with how fast they have been able to move on. Did they really love each other? What was their relationship about?
These are just three of the twelve tales that Srinivasan spins. With the delicate thread of life. His patterns are simple because their content is complicated enough. He doesn’t delve too far or get too creative, choosing instead a prosaic approach. He says things like they are. For instance, the protagonist of What Should I Do is a man whose ex-wife barges into his home and refuses to leave, terrorizing him and his second wife and children. He gets blamed and doesn’t know how to resolve the situation, because he loves both women. If we start counting how many real and reel life situations that have been based on that premise, we’d need several reams of paper!
Srinivasan’s other stories are similar – a village woman sells her body to feed her children when her husband is away working in the city; a couple sacrifice everything they have to educate their son and send him abroad to study and make a fine living, only to have him forget them soon after; a little girl faces physical abuse at the hands of her father; a young girl is so traumatized by her father abandoning her mother that she develops a psychological block against men, remaining a spinster all her life; a cruel and miserly village landlord organizes a feast for the villagers in order to overcome an illness, and then charges them heavy fines once he recovers; the stories go on.
There are no frills anywhere, the stories are heart-wrenching enough on their own. Srinivasan’s simplistic and lucid writing becomes his biggest weapon. He stabs you with each word. Quick incisions that aren’t deep but draw blood. The saltiness of the warm liquid fills your senses, as you realize that these stories are nothing new, but their portrayal leaves you dizzy with reaction. Hurting not just for the characters in them, but for yourself. Their mundane-ness is familiar, and you suddenly realize why you run towards the different, the exotic, the special.
It is the mundane that wrenches your gut, churns your soul. Maybe that’s why, you and I want no part of it. Absolutely none.