Monday, June 15, 2015

Book Review : Kaleidoscopic Lives – Ensemble Narratives of the Common Man by Roji Abraham

Man has always felt the need to tell stories. Ancient people told their stories through art. With the development of language of communication, narratives flowed from one generation to another orally in the form of folk tales, fables and legends. On the way, the plots and characters changed and were embellished as per the perspective of the teller. These stories survived by word of mouth, although they kept changing in one way or the other. With the development of scripts and languages, stories came down to us as the written word. They became permanent. While initially, stories were meant to teach a moral lesson, with time, they evolved into a complex form of literary art. Today, short story genre is a recognized field. It is a genre that is not easy to write. Therefore, mastering the art of writing short stories takes time and effort.

When I picked up Roji Abraham’s Kaleidoscopic Lives – Ensemble Narratives of the Common Man, it was the title that first caught my attention. Titles are like windows. They let us see something but leave the rest to imagination. The title speaks of narratives of the common man, a figure appearing frequently in present day political discourses. It hints at the variegated colors of life.

My expectations were well-raised and the very first story hooked me completely. Chocolate Uncle left me mesmerized, making me relive my memories of childhood. It is a tale of sweetness, a short but well-spun yarn with strands of historical forces intertwined into the personal lives of the characters. There is no detailed analysis of the historical tensions at work but they are subtly hinted at, which adds to the text’s richness and the responses it induces in the reader.

Life devoid of humor would be very dull. So we have the Thai Massage, The Court Witness and The Cripple. These stories evoke contrasting responses from the reader. The titillations of youth, the worries of a legal tussle the character is involved in and the sympathy aroused from hearing the story of the crippled man are well complemented by the climax these stories reach. Expected behavioral reactions are dealt with in a clever way making space for subtle humor.

The First Fan and Pilla the Thief deal with both the past and present lives of the protagonists. While the former deals with first impressions which are often misleading and throw light on individual biases and social prejudices, the latter is a tale of reform and social acceptance.
The sexual promiscuity in The Talented Cook weighs well against the poignant tale Till the Day I Die. The care-free joviality of the cook is well-documented in not just his cooking skills but in the other ‘passionate’ spheres of life. The young men learn important life-lessons from the cook’s escapades but also risk running into trouble. Till the Day I Die is placed at the opposite end of the spectrum. It deals with true love in a restrictive society. It is a befitting end to the motley of emotions that pervade the book.

Shahab is another narrative that registers unconditional love and nostalgia for unfulfilled dreams. Sometimes, some people come in our life without knocking the door and they fill up a void that nobody else saw or sensed. Shahab is one such story that registers a good deed done and a cherished dream fulfilled. It leaves the reader with a feel-good factor. So does The Cab-Driver’s Story. Responsibilities force the cab driver to choose a career he had not sought. What the story does to him and to the person who hears his story is what one needs to look out for. It is a touching narrative with positive ending.

One of my favorites in the collection was The German Housemate. What happens when two opposite personalities share one roof? Do they fight, ignore each other or become friends? What exactly is ‘friendship’? Is it the unspoken bond between two people who come close to each other just because of spatial proximity? How much can one overlook the mannerisms of a loud roommate? Does an ‘awkward hug’ seal the friendship bond for good? It is a story that will stay with the reader once the book is completed – a special treat of words and wonderful characterization.

 There is a beautiful line at the end of the last story in the collection Till the Day I Die. “The curse of education is a rational mind……it takes away the beauty of dreams.” Roji Abraham has lived his ‘beauty of dreams’ by weaving this narrative collection by creating characters we meet every other day. For those who want to read something that connects them to their real lives and yet transports them to a distant world, then this book is a must-read.

 “A short story is a love affair, a novel is a marriage. A short story is a photograph, a novel is a film.”           - Writer Lorrie Moore  

To buy the book from amazon, click here


  1. thanks Lata....I was fretting over whether I did justice to the book or not but Roji seemed happy about it. So I am satisfied.....:)