Tehelka Magazine, Vol 5, Issue 32, Dated Aug 16, 2008
Flight From Familiarity
voice makes this collection of stories a treat
KALA KRISHAN RAMESH
I HAD A great time
reading Kuzhali Manickavel’s Insects Are Just Like You And Me Except
Some Of Them Have Wings. The stories are well written, of course,
but what really gets you is the variety, the sheer unpredictably of them.
Some are about the oddest things, others about the most commonplace; the
most peculiar things happen in some, while in others nothing happens at
all. Some characters are “normal”; others may have wings coming out of
their backs or will be pulling cats out of their mouths. You just can’t
say which way a story will turn.
Be warned, though. You might
get a bit unsettled if you bring
maintrack reading habits into this
semi-surreal, sometimes magical
realistic, sometimes deadpanbizarre,
place, where nothing need do
what it’s supposed to be doing.
These are the bylanes where
middles are more likely to be not
in the middle and no end comes,
even after the action rises, falls
and appears to be done. Here,
style may take the place of character and narrative
may not figure at all in the way that
you mostly expect it to.
I thoroughly enjoyed several of the stories
in this collection of 35, both the really short
ones as well as the longer ones. However,
there must be a reason that all three of my
favourites — “The Dynamics of Windows”,
“Suicide Letter is the Most Common Form of
Letter”, “Flying and Falling” — are among the
longest of the stories here.
Perhaps this is because with the longer
stories, there is so much more room for the
characters to move, and for the reader to actually
get a sense of where they are and what
is around them. There is so much more time
to listen to the fall of the characters’ lives and
to look at the possible turns they, and the
story, might take.
The one and two-pagers are not bad reading
at all: “Do You Know How to Twist with
Girls Like This?”, “Cats and Fish”, “The
Perimeter” are non-simplistic and intriguing.
Each of these three stories takes you to where
you either have a ringside view of the small
dramas inherent in all kinds of little events,
or you are in a world where someone has undone
the seams of possibility.
In these stories, sometimes an event,
sometimes a line, and sometimes just the way
a character is, has this ability to insist that
you see, without the anesthesia of description
or logic. Consider these: “Everyone must
keep a box of things they don’t understand
and can’t throw away” or “Even Dalit Christian
lesbians who write feminist
manifestos are allowed to drown
in wells” or “Sri Lankan Tamils.
It’s like they are trying to sing
but their voice never quite takes
off” or “Selva and I are cursed.
We have silhouettes that don’t
sends you shooting off into her stories with a crazy shove, after which
you will find yourself rushing around on your
LIKE YOU AND ME EXCEPT
SOME OF THEM
142 pp; Rs 195
own. The aftermath
is a well-observed thoughtfulness that shows you stuff about stuff that
you know is true, because it’s stuff you have seen and known. For example,
in the story about Mira, who has “streamlined down to the shape of a pin”,
the writer says, “Some girls naturally turn into pockets” and the lives
of all the girls you ever knew that did turn into pockets, holding god-knows-what,
will rush out of your knowing.
What is disappointing are the illustrations:
they are forced and very forgettable, although
they might make you smile.
If the reader thinks that these stories are
there so briefly, like distant, exotic relatives
who you unexpectedly share an intimate holiday
with but who cannot stay, consider that
on the other side, you have the staying pleasures
of the family!
I look forward to whatever unexpected delights
and revelations Kuzhali’s next book
might bring with a sense of committed interest
because I feel that I’ve been in an adventure
that I would like to repeat. •