Thursday, July 16, 2015

FICTION and TRUTH – THE BOUNDARY LINE

FICTION AND TRUTH

While browsing through my bookshelves – I came across an anthology of fiction I had acquired many years ago in Mumbai – which contained one of my favourite short stories.

This evoked memories of an article I had written 5 years ago – and I thought I must post it once again for you to read.

THE BOUNDARY LINE
One of My Favourite Short Stories Revisited
By
VIKRAM KARVE

Sometimes  Truth is Fiction and Fiction is Truth

Last year, a series of events made me hark back to a story I had read long back – a story called The Boundary Line by Guno Samtaney – a story I never forgot since it had a profound and lasting impact on me. 

But I never imagined such things could happen in real life  especially to me.

First  I was witness to the strange spectacle of my own sister avoiding her responsibility of looking after our bedridden mother giving a bizarre excuse saying that her husband was not allowing her to come to Pune since he did not want to live alone.

Of course – he seemed to have no problems when she went on a visit to America for more than a month. 

Next  I observed a pitiable spectacle of an old lady hounded out of her own house and sent to an old age home because her daughter’s husband felt that their flat was too small to accommodate her.

(Of course  the daughter and her husband forgot that they had got this flat free of cost by persuading the old lady to sell off her bungalow for redeveloping the old property and building flats). 

Then  I heard a young NRI say that he was lucky to be settled abroad in America  as this absolved him of the responsibility of looking after his parents in their old age  and he also commented that his India based brother would have to perforce take on this onerous responsibility of looking after the parents.  

My cousin sister bluntly stated that we could not expect our children to look after us in the evening of our lives  and we better start looking for some suitable place like a retirement home which provided for assisted living in our old age.

Without going into the merits and demerits of this issue of old age care – a dispassionate view is  that  in present day circumstances – due to variety of reasons – many children are unable to look after their parents in their old age – due to which many old persons have to live alone towards the end of their lives – at home – or in an old age home – and people of our generation – have to prepared for it.

All these happenings reminded me of the story which kept haunting me  and I delved into my bookcase and searched and searched  till I found the story buried inside an anthology. 

Here are the reference details:

The Boundary Line by Guno Samtaney (Translated from Sindhi by the author) Prateechi – a literary digest of West Indian Languages 1987 Published by Sahitya Akademi in 1992 Price Rs. 30/- ISBN 81-7201-089-3 pp 304–310.

Before I tell you about the story  let me tell you about how I discovered a treasure trove of literature by sheer serendipity. 

Long back  sometime in the 1980s  my friends and I decided to see a movie at Sharada Cinema at Dadar in Mumbai. 

The 3 o’clock afternoon show was houseful  so we bought tickets for the 6 o’clock evening show  and we were wondering how to kill time.

We were thinking of loafing and snacking in Khodadad Circle Dadar  when I suddenly saw a board of the Sahitya Akademi Regional Office and decided to explore further. 

Here  in a dingy dark basement full of dust  I was to discover a wealth of literature  a rich collection of books on Indian Literature. 

It appeared that hardly anyone ever visited this place  and the solitary and lonely salesman was so happy  that he cheerfully roused himself from his hibernation  picked up a cloth duster – led me down into the huge basement  switched on the lights  and  as he cleaned the copious dust accumulated on the books and shelves  he showed me around  and told me to browse and pick up whatever I wanted.

Despite the suffocating atmosphere  I felt at ease amongst the interesting books.

My friends  who knew of my love for books  told me to browse to my heart’s content  and meet them at 5:45 PM in the café opposite the cinema. 

I was the solitary “customer” in the book “depot”. 

Yes  I will call the place a depot and not a store  as the place resembled a warehouse rather than a shop. 

As I spent the next three hours leafing through the fascinating collection of books I lost all sense of time, only to be interrupted by the lights being switched off at 5:30 PM with an announcement that it was fifteen minutes to closing time.

Impressed by the large collection of books I had picked up  the solitary salesman suggested that I take a one year subscription to INDIAN LITERATURE  Sahitya Akademi’s Bi-Monthly Literary Journal  and showed me the latest copy of the journal. 

He made an extra effort to open a drawer  pull out a receipt book  and I paid a princely amount of a ninety rupees (yes – Rs. 90 only) as annual subscription (the journal cost fifteen rupees per issue then). 

I never regretted subscribing to Indian Literature and I have carefully preserved each copy and many times I surf through my bookcase and pick a copy to read – at present I have near my bedside  Issue 155 of Indian Literature published in 1993 – which has an accent on Malayalam Literature and features stories by literary stalwarts like OV Vijayan, T Padmanabhan, NS Madhavan, P Surendran et al

I do not know how to read Malayalam  and it is only thanks to this journal that I am able to relish the translations of this excellent creative writing in English.

Indian Literature is written in a variety of diverse languages. 

However  unless one is a linguist  most of us generally learn not more than three languages – our Mother Tongue, Hindi and English (like I know Marathi, Hindi and English). 

It is only via translations that we can savour the rich repertoire of Indian Literature.

Sahitya Akademi has certainly done a yeoman’s service in this aspect  by publishing anthologies in various Indian Languages and Digests like Prachi, Prateechi and Uttara  which are literary digests comprising creative writing from various regions. 

Tell me – Dear Reader – Would it have been possible for me to read a story from Sindhi Literature but for Sahitya Akademi?

I wonder whether Sharada Cinema and this nostalgic warehouse of books still exist. 

If you live in Mumbai  why don’t you pay a visit, find out and tell us. 

I live in Pune now  and I am tempted to get into a Shivneri Volvo bus and go to Mumbai  get down at terminus  the “Asiad” Bus Stand in Dadar East  and walk down to Sahitya Akademi office in the basement of Sharda Cinema building  and browse through the latest anthologies and publications from Sahitya Akademi  which unfortunately are not available in any bookstore in Pune. 

I tried my favourite online bookstore Flipkart – and even there  most of the Sahitya Akademi Titles are out of stock and the literary journal Indian Literature is not even listed. 

Also  I have never seen Sahitya Akademi publications in any of the leading bookstores in other places as well. 

This shoddy marketing of such wonderful anthologies is depriving so many interested readers from access to gems of Indian Literature. 

So  now  the connoisseur has to eagerly wait for the annual Diwali Ank for Marathi Readers (and Puja Specials in Bengali Readers and similar vernacular magazines) for satiating their literary thirst, especially for short stories.

The other alternative for the lover of short fiction is to look for anthologies of translations published sporadically by Katha and reputed English Publishers like the recently published collection of short stories by Banaphool, the master storyteller from Bengal, titled What Really Happened translated by Arunava Sinha and published by Penguin.

Hey – I have digressed.

Now let’s talk about the story I want to tell you about   THE BOUNDARY LINE

This story is not available on the internet. 

So I will summarize the story for you.


Summary of THE BOUNDARY LINE By GUNO SAMTANEY

Guno Samtaney’s “The Boundary Line” is a poignant story which eloquently describes the interplay of emotions in a daughter’s mind as she is compelled by circumstances to shirk the responsibility of taking care of her ailing mother. 

Shocked by her husband’s death  the old woman – the protagonist’s mother  loses her mental balance  and lapses into complete silence. 

The old woman hears nothing  says nothing  and recognizes no one. 

All treatments fail  everyone gives up hope  and the old woman is admitted into an Institute for Mental Rehabilitation near a hill station. 

The old woman’s devoted daughter – who is married and has her own family  visits the mother at periodic intervals at the Institution  and she spares no efforts at getting her mother cured. 

The daughter loves her mother  and is so desperate for her mother to get proper care  that she even bestows sexual favours on the doctor looking after her mother  in order to motivate him to give her mother personalized care and special treatment – so that her mother gets well soon

However  despite all her efforts  everything seems futile  and there is no progress in her mother’s condition  and daughter begins to lose hope. 

However the doctor tells the daughter that she must not abandon hope  and she must keep visiting her mother regularly  since  as far as her mother is concerned  the daughter is the only connection to the past – and  this is the only chance of reviving memories  which is the only way the old lady may get better  otherwise the old lady will sink into an abyss.

The doctor tells the daughter that she must not allow these crucial bonds to break  otherwise her mother may lose her sanity completely.

Maybe  the doctor has an ulterior motive. 

Maybe  the doctor is really interested in making love to the daughter – a young attractive woman  yes – he does this by calling her to his house in the campus  every time the daughter visits the sanatorium in the desolate place in the hills to meet her mother. 

On her frequent visits to the sanatorium  they – the doctor and the woman  follow a fixed routine. 

First  the doctor takes the woman to see her mother  and they spend some time together. 

Then  they go the doctor’s house and have lunch. 

And in the afternoon  they indulge in a bout of passionate lovemaking  after which the doctor sees the woman off at the bus stop.

One day  out the blue  the woman receives a letter from the doctor that her mother is cured and is completely normal. 

He asks the woman to come to the mental rehabilitation institute and take her mother away. 

The woman is overjoyed. 

She tells her husband the good news that her mother is now cured and she is going to get her home – but she is stunned by her husband’s reaction  who refuses to let his mother-in-law stay in their small flat. 

Her husband suggests to her that she arrange to send the old lady to her brother  the daughter’s maternal uncle  who has not even bothered to inquire about his own sister after her tragedy  and is sure to refuse to keep her at his place. 

The husband comments whether it would be proper for their own children to live along with an insane woman in the same house. 

Finally  the husband suggests that his wife use her “good offices” with the doctor at the mental rehabilitation institution to extend her mother’s stay over there in the sanatorium  till he gets a promotion and bigger quarters.

The woman is shattered. 

For three days she remains enwrapped in silence  in a zombie like trance  unable to think or speak. 

Then she recovers her wits  gathers courage  and goes to the institution where her mother is kept. 

The doctor receives her cheerfully  and expects that the woman would be eager to meet her mother. 

He is surprised when the woman suggests they go to his house first – instead of their usual routine of first visiting her mother and then going to the doctor’s house to have lunch and make love.

In the aftermath of their lovemaking  the woman tells the doctor the whole story  and she requests him to keep her mother in the mental rehabilitation institute for some more time. 

The doctor is shocked – and asks her why she did not tell him all this before. 

He says it was with great persuasion that he had convinced the medical board to declare her mother normal – and her discharge certificate had already been issued  and it would be very difficult for him to keep her mother in the institution now.

But the woman breaks down  and pleads desperately  and says it is impossible for her to take her mother with her to her own home as her own husband has made it quite clear that the old woman is not welcome  and that her mother should continue to live in the mental rehabilitation institute for some more time. 

The doctor thinks for some time – then he says that he will try his best to do something.

The daughter wants to meet her mother  but the doctor asks the woman to go home without meeting her mother  as that would upset everything  and make his task more difficult. 

While walking across the compound towards the gate  the daughter notices her mother looking out of the window towards her. 

She sees her mother gesturing at her frantically. 

The daughter ignores her mother’s desperate pleadings  and walks away. 

While walking away and abandoning her own mother  the daughter feels that she has not only stepped over the boundary line that divides human beings from animals  but has also crossed over the limits of the animal world.


CONCLUSION

The author  a Sahitya Akademi award winner  has narrated the story very skilfully and with great finesse  moving back and forth in time seamlessly  portraying the conflict of emotions in the protagonist’s mind beautifully  and delivering the message effectively. 

It is quite intriguing that the woman always visits her mother in the sanatorium alone  and is never accompanied by her husband  or is it the author’s device to make us read between the lines? 

Dear Reader  you must try to get hold of this story. 

As I have told you earlier  the reference is:

The Boundary Line by Guno Samtaney (Translated from Sindhi by the author) Prateechi – a literary digest of West Indian Languages 1987 Published by Sahitya Akademi in 1992 Price Rs. 30/- ISBN 81-7201-089-3 pp 304–310.

This story depicts the real world problems in looking after senior citizens  who are gradually made to feel unwanted. 

It suggests no solutions  only portrays the helplessness of the protagonist – the daughter – a young married woman  and sets you thinking what would you do in such a situation. 

Is a wife so hapless in today’s world? 

Is the husband a villain  or does he too have a point  when he gives priority to his own family life and his own children over his mother-in-law?

Isn’t this a noteworthy story? 

It has been possible for me to read this story (and tell you about it) thanks to Sahitya Akademi. 

Before I read the stories in Prateechi  I was not aware that Sindhi Literature has such a rich repertoire. 

It is indeed disappointing that Sahitya Akademi publications are not available easily to the common reader who is deprived of access to the enormous amount of quality literature being written in India in various languages.

The Sahitya Akademi website too does not have much information and it would be great if journals like INDIAN LITERATURE and various digests and anthologies are available in online versions on the internet for all to read.

Dear Reader  from time to time – I will delve into my bookcase and try and tell you about some more gems from Indian Writing in this series in my blog.

Happy Reading

VIKRAM KARVE
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This aricle was written by me Vikram Karve 5 years ago in 2010 and posted online by me earlier in my Academic and Creative Writing Journal and Creative Writng Blogs at urls: http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2011/07/my-favourite-short-stories-part-7.html  and  http://karvediat.blogspot.in/2012/06/boundary-line-short-story-from-sindhi.html  and  http://creative.sulekha.com/my-favourite-short-stories-part-8-the-boundary-line_531770_blog
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