Title – If A River
Author – Kula Saikia
Genre – Fiction, Short story collection
The Birthday Bookathon progresses steadily. For the uninitiated, my reading goals for the year have been regional books from India – one (at least) from each of the twenty nine states and seven union territories. I started on my birthday in November last year and have three more months to go. I just finished one from the northeastern state of Assam. “If A River” is a collection of short stories by Kula Saikia originally written in Assamese and translated into Hindi, Bangla, Odia, Marathi and Telugu languages over the years. This is the first English translation which came out in February this year, comprising twenty short stories, translated into English by six writers.
Saikia’s storytelling is thought provoking, his writing simplistic, with stories inspired from day-to-day life. He transports the reader into the minds of his characters, whereby one feels one isn’t merely reading, but thinking and feeling like his characters do. Some of the stories end with a twist, some twist your thinking throughout, but every one of them causes you to reflect on seemingly mundane issues. From the pathos in ‘Well-wishers‘, to the charming ‘Gift‘, the child-like exuberance of ‘If A River‘, to the horror of ‘Birthmark‘, every story invokes myriad emotions that go beyond the actual story and make you live the character’s life, and experience like he does.
Saikia touches on prosaic themes – waiting at a bus stop, attending a school reunion, going for a run, preparing a will, wanting to play a game of football, making new friends. His narrative, however, leaves a deep impact – causing you to reflect long after each story has ended. I read at the rate of two or three stories a day – in spite of being short reads, the author has the knack of making you read and reflect, and take your time through them. Some of my favorites were, ‘In The Rain‘ – about an elderly couple waiting for the rain on noticing their flower bed wilting, ‘Whispers‘ – set at a funeral, where the death of a house owner results in a maid losing the job she was dependent on for her dying child, ‘The Game‘ – featuring a sports coach and his emphasis on the importance of sports, ‘The Final Hour‘ – the difference between what is thought, what is said, and what is done when doomsday arrives, ‘The Will‘ – about a man with dementia pondering over preparing a will, before he forgets the things he owns, and the people he knows.
I loved Saikia’s usage of figures of speech, and was astounded at his seamless weaving of alliterations, metaphors and personifications in a work of prose, which makes it seem almost poetic. Some beautiful lines:
~”Look at this candle. We simply look at its flame that gives light, the molten wax remains unseen to the eyes. The burning candle does not weep for the molten wax.”
~”Tell me about your long journey. Was it the same old countries, same old oceans, same old mountains, or something new? Did you notice any new clusters of stars to show you the way?” (A bedridden old man talking to birds at his window.)
~”Sometimes poems, as yet unwritten, are created in a hidden, secret chamber of the mind.”
~”An annoying boredom gnaws at her in the silence. Noise could become her friend now.”
~”The doors of his mind are open for the winds of knowledge to enter from all directions.”
~”The pleasure of a journey encompasses much more than the mere satisfaction of arriving at your destination. You may assume that the journey always continues, and it will continue till the last step.”
~”Memories stay with us. They cannot be bequeathed through a will.”
~”Every object has a specific use, and is created for a definite purpose. Yet the significance of that purpose may vary from person to person.”
~”Smiles sweep across their faces like barges on a river, and he stands on its side, unmoved as a rock.”
I marked a lot of quotes and excerpts throughout the book, and this collection will stay cherished among my shelves to flip through occasionally. A mention needs to be made of the translators who have done a fabulous job in bringing Saikia’s works to a wider audience of readers worldwide. The “painting” on the cover is beautiful – simplistic and connects with the reader, just like a river connects its banks. The first page of the book is also printed in the Assamese language – providing a connect with the original writer and his writings – something I have not seen in many translated books. I attempted the script on the origami paper boat I crafted to go with the picture. The words are the title of the book, followed by the name of the author. If you like books that make you think, give this one a read. “If A River” is the only collection of Kula Saikia’s works available for English readers.
Rating – 5/5