||A Storyteller In Orbit
by Susan Whaley
THE 10 STORIES in Ven Begamudre`s first collection fairly leap from the page. Here is a spirited, energetic voice that obviously delights in spinning tales. It is also a humane voice and a courageous one, for it examines life from points of view both male and female, young and old, Caucasian and East Indian. Begamudre presents familiar themes such as relations between the sexes, between generations, and between cultures in unfamiliar ways. He suggests that as much as the world has become the cliched global village, we its inhabitants are all still individuals, locked into our own eccentric orbits.
Begamudre`s is a lively style, rich in imagery of exotic birds and flowers, and laced with intriguing anecdotes from the vast fund of Hindu mythology. He presents stories in a variety of ways. The first, "Vishnu`s Navel," depicts a Scheherazade-like narrator attempting to divert the navel-gazing Lord Vishnu with a sad tale about an outcast human being who begs only in order to be noticed. The tale-within-a-tale tradition is repeated in "Honestly, As in the Day," where the Koran meets the Bible to humorous effect. Again, though, tragedy provides a means to the comic end. "Mosaic" uses diverse points of view to investigate an assault on an East Indian man. The victim`s is the only voice excluded, but what is revealed by witnesses is devastating for what it implies about the biases of even well-meaning individuals.
Mythology plays a major part in some of the stronger stories, such as "Samsara" and "Understanding Maya." In the latter a guru named Baba, operating a retreat on the St. Lawrence River for stressedout North Americans, is pressured for "donations" by Revenue Canada as well as by time-travelling civil servants from India`s department of taxation. Besides plenty of mischievous humour, there are elements of fantasy and mysticism: here the perplexing concepts of illusion and reality collide.
The two most moving stories portray the dark side of contemporary India. In "The Evil Eye," a marriage is arranged between two very young people who cannot even converse because they come from different parts of the country. The boy, Sinu, has never known his father`s unqualified love because the old man, ruled by superstition of a malicious evil eye, has always hidden his feelings for his son. Of course dreaded fate sneaks in where it is least expected, and tragedy ensues. `A Promise We Shall Wake in the Pink City after Harvest" reprises the story of Janaki, Sinu`s bride, and shows us the cultural pressures that lead to the outlawed practice of bride-burning. The story is a chilling look at a continuing barbarity.
The least successful piece is the collection`s title story. Here the book`s central theme is rather too baldly and frequently stated: "to be eccentric is to be natural, and to fear our eccentricities is to fear our humanity." But other stories, such as "Gardens Apart," "Sand Dollars," and "Samsara," which explore family and sexual relations from female points of view, are remarkable for their sharp, frank observations about emotional entanglements. I am grateful for the explanatory notes at the end of the book; while some entries are longer than necessary, they are informative and helpful. What impresses me most about Ven Begamudre`s work are his appealing narrators and his sheer zest for storytelling.