PILLI Books

Disturbing and Unsettling Stories

In Uncategorized on May 27, 2012 at 2:58 pm

Ankur Betageri’s Bhog and Other Stories can be considered as an anthology of life’s emptiness, examined from a sociological-cum-psychological perspective. Existence becomes painful for humans due to gross poverty, as is explicit in the story ‘Bhog’. Some stories are bitter, extremist and near surrealist. He has dealt with all the present-day existential problems of contemporary man, the trials and tribulations which humanity has to face.
Some stories, like ‘Big Bear Remembers Kako’, can be considered as heroic examples of human courage and endurance. Betageri lets the characters expose themselves in true Chaucerian fashion, and the reader is at times left wondering at his clinical efficiency in
dealing with the characters. The story ‘A Record of the Fag End and Aftermath of a Broken Love Affair’ reflects a general demise of human relations.
The stories exude a highly disturbing and unsettling feeling. The author has employed a creatively innovative armory of dismantling power and unsettling ambience. ‘Atmaram Harbhaji’ is an incongruous mingling of the banal with the bizarre, highlighting the
degenerate and perverted ethos of a demonic society. Demonic cravings existing in an evil society produce a chaotic and dystopian existence.
The story ‘The Big Bicycle’ depicts man’s psychological struggle in a world in which all values are suspect and all attempts to achieve identity are subject to frustration. ‘The Armour’ gives a pen-portrait of modern-day existence which has proved to be totally futile in
all its attempts to gain credibility. Consequently, the story demonstrates the tragic failure of modern man to nurture and to assert his unique selfhood.
‘The Armour: An Allegory’ uses powerful symbolism to describe death. . The human body is likened to a prison, and the seven vices that influence and empower the prison are redefined as youth, madness, sickness, beauty, rage, love and silence. We spend our whole
life blindly running after these and forget the true meaning of life and existence. We all know that we are mortal and one day will leave this earth for the heavenly abode. But we forget this stark reality and start fighting with the seven armours. It’s only in old age that we realise the reality:

But with age you leak out the holes and slits of armour like water. Again you have to
face the bars with lions raging around. You know for sure that you are moving
towards them – flowing towards them – towards those tongues waiting to lap you. (2)

It is implied that death is waiting for you just as the lions are ready to pounce at their prey at the very sight of it. Death is a predator and there is no escape from it. Betageri refers to the Hindu custom of burning bodies after death. When we die we become mere memories, and our armour is left behind: at the time of death fighting for beauty, love, and youth all seem trivial. He explicitly highlights the bitter truth of life and existence. Even existence becomes a non-entity after death. This cycle goes on and on. The futility of human existence is wonderfully explained in this allegory.
In the story ‘Malavika’, the writer has tried to show the dilemma of present generation which is confused and not focused on their priorities in life:

The strange fact was that though she had earned good marks in high school and had
come to Bangalore to study she wasn’t much interested in studies … Most of her freetime was spent lazing around in shopping malls. … Where to park the car… which are the best places to hang out in MG Road … she either knew these things or showed keen interest in knowing them. (101)

Through lack of proper guidance and failing to taking life seriously, today’s generation ends up wasting their precious lives, giving rise to feelings of loneliness, despondency and hopelessness. Malavika says:

Have you ever felt this way? As if life had suddenly drained all meaning: as if everything had become meaningless for no reason … A deep, tormenting feeling that you can’t bear the burden of living anymore. (105)

Her tone reflects dissonance and despair. The present generation is directionless and doesn’t know what will be the outcome of their lives. Life is ambiguous without any solutions. The futility exhibited in this story makes us ponder and search for the solution to this riddle called life.
In all, Betageri’s stories display an assortment of existential problems that human beings face in the modern world. Remedies need to be found, otherwise the situation will become worse and lead to a doomsday for which humans are themselves responsible. He highlights the topsy-turvy world which left unattended could lead to a stifling existence, but although his vision is tragic throughout, he leaves scope for solutions and improvements, and offers hope to humankind.

Payal Khurana

Published in May 2012 issue of Transnational Literature (http://dspace.flinders.edu.au/jspui/bitstream/2328/25916/1/Bhog.pdf)

 

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Deconstructing Everyday Reality

In Uncategorized on June 16, 2011 at 5:47 am

Bhog and Other Stories by Ankur Betageri, Pilli Books, Bengaluru.

Earnest confessions and restive moral enquiries underline almost all first books, but this one chooses to be quieter and subtler, a little subdued and oblique – painted in grey, resisting shocking pinks and electric blues.

‘Bhog’ is a multi-layered word with multiple cultural connotations. ‘Bhog’ means offerings to gods and dead dears through a fire-ritual. As a binary to ‘yog’ it is the hungry carnal consumption of earthly delights (refer to Charvakas’ ‘Loka-yat’: ‘yawat jeevet sukhen jeevet, wrinam hritwa ghritam peevet’: ‘eat, drink and be merry/ buy, borrow, have it all.’) Stoic acceptance of sufferings or sufferings both as the ‘prasad’ of God and the bearings of sin (wittingly or unwittingly) committed in past lives is also referred to as ‘bhog.’ On the whole, the word flashes in the Indian psyche as a state of ‘being’ on its way to ‘becoming.’ Dispassionate offerings both of the ‘anna-brahma’ and the fruits of karma in the fire of non-complaining, stoical (stithapragna) sufferings can be a gateway to salvation, so says the poetical Indian theology, replete with metaphors, allegories, symbols and motifs.

We suffer and we rise. We consume and then are consumed: ‘Bhujyate iti bhogah’ (whatever you consume, consumes you) till there comes an awareness to view it all with objectivity (non-attachment). That is the state that ignites our insight (a tear within the heart of things). This is what drives us on to ‘seeing’ and ‘being.’

This writer, still in his twenties, names his well-produced first book after this complex cultural ritual of gradual purification. Bhog and Other Stories stages moments of complex inner transformations, internal rigidities, and resistance blowing high and low, like flames, around them. Ankur is a trained psychologist. Internalizing things and nothings, events and non-events before breaking them open is in-built in his grain.

Bhoga hua yathartha,’ the experiential range of reality was the clarion call of both the Realist and Modernist fictions. Ankur is closer to the Woolfian and the Joycean models in some of the stories. ‘Bhog,’ for instance, internalizes the whole process of the slow slashing down and splintering of a dead tree and then, with a dramatic turn, the Bhog-fire turns into a funeral pyre for the dead pet. The situational irony subtly plays upon the semiotic underpinning of wood-and-fire inbuilt in Indian mythology:

‘The tree seemed to have lost some of its grace which the sweating, stooping figure of the old man had seemingly acquired…. The old man’s second daughter stood at a distance, her face lit orange and her eyes illuminated by the blaze. And as she gazed intently, lost in the ferocity of fire, a yellow leaf plopped on her coffee-brown hair, like a balm.’

The gutsy old man has a grain both of King Lear and the protagonist in The Old Man and the Sea. This slow and painful transfer of grace from the tree that gives way to the toiling man is subtle and complex, so is the transmission of the blaze. This blaze would turn into a definite burn. It’ll travel through generations (from the old man to the youngest daughter). Nature takes its toll but it also heals, becomes a balm on your burns.

Ankur describes what he sees and detects with accuracy (almost a heroic honesty) but he is interested more in the mind than in manners. Sometimes he dematerializes situations by allowing into them dreams, symbols, ideas of an out-of-place, disinherited mind. Defamiliarization of everyday reality by breaking it into micro-moments of non-happenings seems to be his patent technique especially the stories where he delicately handles post-modern techniques of deconstructing diary-entries (… Aftermath of a Broken Love Affair), confessions and mood-swings (Malavika), dialogues and reflections (A Conversation: Story Written in the Manner of a Movie Script).

In some of the more reflective, unrealistic flights he talks through inanimate objects: ‘The Armour’, ‘The Big Bicycle’, ‘Big Bear Remembers Kako’, ‘The City of Walls’ and ‘God’s Flower’. And here his prose reads sometimes like poetry and sometimes like a fairytale:

‘There are iron armours lined up inside the prison. They are youth, madness, sickness, beauty, rage and silence. Once entered we’re warriors, fated to die in them… Being, then, is the battlefield.’

***

‘The Big Bear had stepped over a honey-comb that had made its feet sticky, but the cubs, unaware of this, were left wondering when they found that the leaves didn’t stick to their feet.’

***

‘My house, which was always smart and gaudy, looked innocent in the tender light… The stupefied roses and the weak-winged crows flew towards the horizon even as they saw all these.’

***

‘Once God hit upon the idea of creating this flower… Then he made it bright by adding light from the shimmering horizon, and made it fervid with passion by suffusing it with the blood of a longing dove.’

***

‘Been to a village yesterday. Saw only darkness in the night and in the hearts of men. Superior men are not born, nor are they made, they become because they can’t help it.’

Events unfold very slowly, almost in slow motion, as if a computer has refused to take the load or a machine is running on low-voltage but this is basically a technique to create situations of ‘stand and stare.’ Stand-stills like these, almost like soliloquies in a play, offer us moments to ponder and analyze, view and review.

That this boy has got the makings of a philosopher is evident from the reflective mode of the stories; and at times one marvels at the crystals he carves:

‘I beg your pardon. I think I have read enough about the blindness of knowledge, the ever-flowing dynamic nature of existence and stuff like that. I can only say that these lamps which flicker in the remote corner of the huge dark room have saved me from the terrible ghosts of despair. I have woken up at midnight, as if from a fever, and cowering under the crumpled bedsheet, I have blinked in the great darkness of the night.’

This hints at the existential angst every young mind suffers:

‘The horror of not knowing what to want is greater than the tragedy of not having what you want. Girls, poems, movies, books, friends, family, college, career… everything disgusts me… I don’t think I can create what I so desperately need… It is something concrete; something which is either had or not; something whose loss can’t be substituted – even symbolically – with words and phrases….’

This tendency to live through proxy, not being able to love and accept, the tendency to sit upon judgement, ‘the deficiency love’, has constantly been critiqued: ‘Everything in which the Spirit can’t stay I call junk. Modern world worships this. It tries to force the Spirit on this junk by all kinds of yelling and bellowing, and thus ends up creating even an artificial Spirit. This plastic yuga is so dehumanized that even monsters are afraid to live in it… “Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards,”’ thus speaks the young philosopher, and we agree with a smile.

Dr Anamika

 

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from The Book Review

In Uncategorized on May 12, 2011 at 8:47 am



Bhog and Other Stories
by Ankur Betageri is a collection of fifteen short stories that range from the realistic to the phantasmagorical. In his world, cows beget infants and babies are born in five pieces; simply put, anything is possible. Betageri has the knack of putting profound observations into a few pithy sentences. He is not one to waste words. That he is a poet at heart is evident in these stories. Surprisingly, however, the narrative does not flow easily in his stories. Rather, it is painful and lumbering. The description of the rural setup in ‘Bhog’, the story from which the book derives its name, is painstakingly accurate. Throughout the story, the reader remains untouched by the old man’s labours; all his efforts to maintain his dignity do not strike a chord. Similarly, though you might not make a connect with Malavika, you can’t disregard Betageri’s observations on the youth of India. And, in all honesty, he does offer some answers to uncomfortable questions and some interesting insights into the human psyche. In ‘A Record of the Fag End and Aftermath of a Broken Love Affair’ he writes, ‘It is our perspectives about events that kill us, not the events themselves. It is hard to think in ways other than those you are acccoustomed to. Habits die hard.’ A few cliches, some elements of the impossible, surreal, some great insights and precise observations – that’s Betageri’s world. The problem with it is that it is slow, deliberate, one which leaves you a disinterested spectator. Bad editing does not further his cause. Overall, he fails to establish a bond with his characters and readers. After you close the book, the stories fade away rather quickly.

Soma Banerjee

Review published in The Book Review Vol XXXV, # 5, May 2011

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