To be a seed is to stay alive... I’ve turned you all into seed,” says Dulan the farmer in Mahasweta Devi’s Seed, originally published in Bengali in 1979. Mini Krishnan, in a way, does a Dulan in Tell me a long, long story, an anthology of translated masterpieces from across India. The book, edited by Krishnan, gives a fresh lease of life to works of literary finesse which would otherwise be confined to language fiction.
Set in different states and eras, the stories effectively transport the reader to the heartlands of Odisha, rice fields of Bengal, nostalgic naalukettu house by a river in Kerala, and the serene hills of Sikkim. The stories are peppered with characters that force their way into your psyche and linger for long. Be it the hapless farmer, the ruthless landlord, the rebel, the college youngster, the seductress, the witch, the wife, or even a goat—characters have multiple layers to them.
What makes Tell me a long, long story a gripping collection is that these characters, brimming with emotional details, lay bare human emotions in raw form—love, lust, jealousy, possessiveness, loneliness, authority or fear. For instance, Malayali author K.R. Meera in her story The Deepest Blue (translated by J. Devika) delves deep into the mind and conflicts of a wife, a mother of two daughters, who falls in love with an ascetic. Meera throws to the wind conventions of ‘chastity’, and quenches her protagonist’s longing for love.
Marathi writer Shripad Narayan Pense’s story Jumman (translated by Shanta Gokhale) is of love of a different kind. Pense exposes the heart of a remorseful father, transformed by the sudden loss of his children. He finds love and solace in Jumman, his pet goat. Jumman is a reflection of a society burdened or rather blinded by superstition, and a father blinded by possessive love.
The irony of it all is that decades after most of these stories were conceived, the plight of many Indians remains the same, be it in the villages or small towns. That’s another factor that makes the stories strike a chord with the reader.
Tell me a long, long story
Edited by Mini Krishnan
Published by Aleph Book Company
Pages 316; Price Rs 699