Wednesday, November 16, 2011

THE BOUNDARY LINE - My Favourite Short Stories Revisited Part 3


Sometimes, Truth is Fiction and Fiction is Truth. A series of recent events made me hark back to a story I had read long back – a story called 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 saying that her husband was not allowing her to come to Pune. 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, they forgot that they had got this flat free by persuading the old lady to sell off her modest bungalow). Then I heard a youngster 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 commented that his India based brother would have to perforce take on this onerous responsibility.  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 which provided for assisted living in our old age.

All these happenings reminded me of the story which kept haunting me and I delved into my bookcase and found it: 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, maybe sometime in the 1980s, my friends and I decided to see a movie at Sharada Cinema in Dadar Mumbai. The three o’clock show was houseful so we bought tickets for the six o’clock show and were wondering how to kill time, maybe a loaf and snack in Khodadad Circle, 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 staff were so happy that they 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, 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, and my friends, who know of my love for books, told me to browse to my heart’s content and meet them at a quarter to six in the café opposite the cinema. I was the solitary “customer” in the book “depot”. Yes, I will call the place a depot not a store, as the place resembles 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 with an announcement that it was fifteen minutes to closing time.

Impressed by the large collection of books I had picked up, the solitary employee 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 as annual subscription (the journal cost fifteen rupees per issue then). I never regretted subscribing toIndian Literature and 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 and 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. 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 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 or look for anthologies of translations published sporadically by Katha and reputed English Publishers like the recently published collection of short stories by the master storyteller from Bengal Banaphool titled What Really Happened translated by Arunava Sinha and published by Penguin.

Now let’s talk about the story. This story is not available on the internet so I will summarize it for you here.

Guno Samtaney’s “The Boundary Line” is a poignant story in 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 loses her mental balance and lapses into complete silence. She hears nothing, says nothing and recognizes no one. All treatments fail, everyone gives up hope and the old lady is admitted into an Institute for Mental Rehabilitation near a hill station. The devoted daughter visits the mother at periodic intervals at the Institution and she spares no efforts at getting her mother cured. She is so desperate that she even bestows sexual favours on the doctor looking after her mother so that he gives her personalized care and special treatment. However, despite all her efforts, everything seems futile and there is no progress in her mother’s condition and she beings to lose hope. However the doctor tells her that she must not abandon hope and 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 he is really interested in making love to her in his house every time she visits the sanatorium in the desolate place in the hills. On her every visit to the sanatorium they 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 her 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 and the woman should come and take her mother away. The woman is overjoyed but is stunned by her husband’s reaction who refuses to let his mother-in-law stay in their small flat. He suggests that she arrange to send the old lady to her brother, the woman’s maternal uncle, who has not even bothered to enquire about his own sister after her tragedy and is sure to refuse to keep her. The husband comments whether it would be proper for their own children to live along with an insane woman in the same house. Finally he suggests that his wife use her “good offices” with the doctor at the mental rehabilitation institution to extend her mother’s stay over there.

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.

In the aftermath of their lovemaking the woman tells the doctor the whole story and 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 normal, 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 home. The doctor thinks for some time and says he will try.

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 as the she sees her own daughter ignoring her and walking 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.

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 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 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, I will delve into my bookcase and try and tell you about some more gems from Indian Writing in this series on my blog.

I trust you have read about all my favourite stories. In case you haven’t, do read the earlier parts of this series MY FAVOURITE SHORT STORIES right here on my blog, many of which I will be revisiting soon.

Happy Reading

Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

Did you like this article?
I am sure you will like the 27 fiction short stories from my recently published anthology of Short Fiction COCKTAIL 

To order your COCKTAIL please click any of the links below:

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Foodie Book:  Appetite for a Stroll
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About Vikram Karve

A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures (2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.

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1 comment:

aativas said...

I too owe a lot to Sahitya Akadami and National Book Trust. These two have done a great service to us by bringing literature from various languages.