Beyond the Canopy of Icicles by Subhash Chandra: An in-depth Review

by November 25, 2018 0 comments

Subhash ChandraKalyanee Rajan says that Subhash Chandra writes with a tight economy of words and images. This  must be a result of several decades of training as an academic and critic.

While writing fiction, especially novels may have become fashionable in these times, short stories can be prove incredibly tricky to write, to master and to be effective. Although the expanse of a short story in terms of structure is limited and the focus needs to be razor sharp, at the same time, a successful writer works towards building a relatable universe of characters and events which would appeal best to his readers at present and in the times to come. In his second collection of short stories titled Rs  the Canopy of Icicles, writer and academic Subhash Chandra strives to explore unfamiliar territories: Of modern day nuclear families, complicated love-relationships, the supernatural, devious as well as callous offsprings, the promptings of a would-be killer, the dilemmas of a compulsive writer to name a few. His maiden, highly entertaining collection titled Not Just Another Story (LiFi, 2017) contained seventeen short tales marked by ample wit and humour, a few shades of grey and the tragic, and a nuanced exploration of several unusual themes including queer identity, transgenders, female foeticide, parent-child relationship among others. The second collection therefore naturally gets laden with the burden of raising the bar.

The thirteen stories of Rs  the Canopy of Icicles however manifest a darker world, and reveal a deliberate effort on the part of the writer to dazzle the reader by unveiling the unusual as it were. Sumanyu Satpathy’s glowing foreword to this collection highlights several useful pointers vis-à-vis the genre of short story. By invoking the master craftsman Edgar Allen Poe who envisaged the depiction of a single mood in a short story and every sentence thereof building towards it in some way, Satpathy identifies a similar training visible in Chandra’s stories. Satpathy notes how Chandra’s stories begin with a certain abruptness which immediately arrests a reader’s attention who thereafter gets invariably drawn into the riveting world of the story. Chandra’s detailed and effusive acknowledgements provide a nice background to his beginnings as a short story writer, a brief history of his previous publications and his long list of gratitude towards his several well-wishers. While Chandra’s pen flows effortlessly once into the core of his story-universe, the second collection trudges on a tad drearily at times, as though making its way with great effort. The themes tackled here are indeed complex as well as sombre, and humour is only allowed entry through the harsher mode of the tragi-comic. The breaks within the stories may at times seem hurried, half-worked out, and some associations may feel contrived, but the tour de force of each story is unmistakably laid out with great expertise and the story-universe crafted with careful attention.

The first story of the collection, “Atheist”, begins with a quotation linking one’s past life to the happenings of the present life immediately preceding a disarming statement of the protagonist, “I am a rationalist and an atheist. I don’t have the crutch called God.” The story deals with several knotty issues: The disjunctions of an arranged marriage, the tussle between ardent religious faith and an equally religious free will, and the travails of a curiously named, constantly bullied child who ultimately ends it all by succumbing to peer pressure. The issues demand gentler handling, but the story takes all of them on in a whirlwind, and the reader is left numb with an acute sense of loss at the end, questioning his/ her own faith. The second, shorter story titled “Monster” deals with the ill effects of unsupervised, spurious drugs taken by a woman to abort the child of her unfaithful lover who finally marries someone else out of purely material considerations, and the friend who abets finds himself paralysed into inaction despite the aggrieved woman’s impassioned pleas. “Man/ Superman” is a curious story: A pusillanimous father chided constantly by his wife and daughter suddenly assumes authority, fighting off not only the roadside ruffians, but also dealing with the two women with an iron hand, all this apparently after watching a film about an ageing patriarch. Initially the change is welcomed by the women but they begin to resent the increasingly conservative atmosphere of the house which begins to resemble the workings of the late grandfather. Then one day, as suddenly and inexplicably, the coward returns, plunging the women into throes of joy, “I’m so glad,” says the daughter, “We must celebrate,” chimes in the mother.

Both “A Caring Son” and “Get the Bill” are brutally real and unblinkered takes on the deviousness of contemporary off springs who are so steeped into the material world of money, fame and success, that they defy all bonds of filial duty to dupe the father of his hard earned money in the former, and, junk all possibilities of an investigation into the horrific murder of their mother in the latter. Both stories stand apart as vivid portrayals of happenings one usually comes across every day on the front pages of a newspaper. Chandra must be commended on the choice of titles of his stories, which aptly capture either satirically or directly, the focal point so to say, of each little universe depicted in each one of them.

Similarly, “Mother and Daughter” and “A Pinch of Love” are stories with unusual central characters, a dwarf who plays the clown in a circus, and, an autistic child respectively. Both stories carry tragic overtones, the latter more expressly so, and both reveal different facets of parenthood. “Dual Curse” and “The Writ of Destiny” take on matters of love and issues within a marriage. “Prickly Rose” finds a liberal, educated man locked up for his supposed connection with Maoists, while “My Sister, Aaliya” has a gentle-minded horse as its protagonist who kills his master to avenge the murder of his kind-hearted mistress. The most poignant story of the volume remains “Romance in Hospital” where a nurse loses her lover-benefactor to a sudden cardiac arrest soon after a night of passion and mutual avowals of love.

Chandra writes with a passion and a sense of keen observation. Rs  the Canopy of Icicles is a thought-provoking collection of stories, definitely un-put-down-able, and deserves to be read for its sheer variety and sincerity.

Writer: Kalyanee Ranjan

Courtesy: The Pioneer

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