The sweet and sour of life, from a clinical psychologist
|Bhog and Other Stories
By Ankur Betageri Pilli Books, Bengaluru
108 pp | Rs 260
IN Ankur Betageri’s debut collection of short stories, Bhog and Other Stories, the last story, Malavika, is about a Bengaluru-based materialistic girl. The eponymous character, Malavika, is befriended by the narrator—a writer and a friend of the young college-going student. The writer shows that Malavika is confused about life.
On one occasion Malavika and the narrator visit a hospital to donate blood. The doctor does not allow Malavika to donate because she has a low count of red blood cells. Malavika turns sad at this rejection and the narrator reads her a poem to cheer her up. She cuts him off in the middle and tells him that he should publish books and seriously consider writing novels. The narrator muses: “Only when a person’s capacity is expressed in the form of a product or a service can one give it the value of money—only things having money value can have any value. I realised that this philosophy was behind all her talk and action.”
Later in the story, Malavika seems to suffer from a nervous breakdown. She can’t understand her suffering. She meets up with the narrator. “Look, there is a deep lack of love in this world,” he consoles her. “Like most people who have adjusted themselves to the dehumanising conditions of the capitalistic system, even you have lost the ability to love someone with all your heart; to accept someone with all your being. While a small portion of your brain shows a little love and sympathy, the rest of your brain becomes busy calculating like a businessman.”
Ankur should know—he has a Masters degree in clinical psychology.
Like Malavika, most of the stories in this collection are about the dilemmas of life that characters face, until a transforming moment imparts them a rare insight. The characters, and through them the readers, are rewarded with epiphanies that somehow lessen the burden of life, for life invested with meaning becomes less painful.
Psychology, philosophy, and ancient wisdom form the framework for the screen on which Ankur throws his beam of imaginary characters that fashion his curious world. The resulting tales sometimes take strange, allegorical forms. In essence, his stories demonstrate the fight between the spirit and the matter.
I nsights flow from one story to another in this collection of 14 stories. But all stories are not realistic. There are some fantastic stories too such as Atmaram Harbhaji and The Armour. In Atmaram Harbhaji the main character is a man who was born in five bits and was lovingly brought up in a sack by his mother. This is a tragicomic story with the dark shades of Kafka and the linguistic inventiveness of Rushdie.
Bhog is the most accomplished story in this collection of many insightful stories. Though the stories here are of uneven quality and they could have been better edited, they leave you with a thought or an insight. Overall, Bhog and Other Stories could be a rewarding read for readers who want more than entertainment in their reading material.
Zafar Anjum is a Singapore-based journalist and writer.