Wednesday, September 22, 2004

rotten-fish dept.

Just had a glance through N.P.Gogate's wonderful novella भाऊचा धक्का. It was a revelation to see that Marathi literature, even after the recent loss of the erstwhile masters, still manages to throw up a few gems now and then.

Gogate writes sparse, knife-sharp prose that pierces like a rapier to the heart of the matter. But in spite of his terseness he has a great sense of atmosphere, and especially notable are his wonderful descriptions of the fish markets in and around Mumbai. They almost bring out the sultry odour of pomfret and zhinga selling in the open stalls.

Marathi literature and cinema seem to specialize in the analysis of childhood and the preservation of childish innocence (Sane Guruji's श्यामची आई being a case in point, so is the recently released, National-Award-winning movie श्वास). Gogate does not dare stray from the formula in his debut, but even inside the strict matrix of his formula, he establishes himself as a thinker of great originality and freshness (can't say that about the Mumbai fishmongers' wares that permeate the goings-on in the book though).

So Gogate's novella brings us Shailesh Kolvandkar, an intense, rootless young adult trying to explore his own past. His search leads him to a small fishing village (one of the many now being slowly consumed by that relentless narwhal of a city -- Mumbai) on the Malabar coast, and there he plants himself expectantly, waiting for his past to catch up with him.

What Shailesh sees instead is a dynamic, rapidly changing world, with the giant city closing in, and old ways of life being permanently obliterated. After spending many pages trying to save an old Kolin from losing her shop to the 'big fish', Shailesh comes to realise the inevitability of change, and more importantly, the fruitlessness of clinging on to the past.

Part of his search is consumed by an obsession for the pomfret with the perfect smell to match his childhood memories. In his torrid affair with a bright young Koli girl, yearning to leave the dying community, he finds the odor of his dreams (don't ask me where or how!!!), and that is essentially the beginning of the end.

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