Posts tagged Mike Stocks
Posts tagged Mike Stocks
White Man Falling is the first fiction by Mike Stocks. It won the Goss First Novel Award in 2006. What made me buy the book was the cover line drawing of the aerial view of a typical small Tamil Nadu town accompanied by a typical English name as the author. The book tells the story of Swaminathan a retired policeman turning into Swamiji, the reborn God-man in his home town Mullaipuram, a fictitious small town somewhere near Madurai, deep in the southest south of Tamil Nadu, in South India. Swaminathan is a typical nobody with a paralytic attack, a wife (Amma), six unmarried daughters, a half-pension, by-hearted Thirukkural and gullible disposition. On a day when his daughter is being visited for a ‘pre-engagement meeting’ a white man falls from the sky near him and dies. Events after gullible interpretation leading to other events ‘attacks’ Swaminathan’s heart and he dies. Or so everyone thinks. Yamadarmaraja sends him back to Earth as the wrong man at the right time in Hell. Upon his return from being ‘dead’, Swami becomes Swamiji, the holy man who ‘walks with the Gods’. But the fact is he becomes even more resigned to life and cannot speak much because of the paralysis. So, again one contrived event after several gullible misinterpretations favoring him and his family leading to more contrived events later, the story ends in a whimper. Every child lives happily thereafter.
The story is laced with humor and mundane details of South Indian life, both enjoyable and annoying when it works, and pretentious and irritating when it doesn’t. Having lived in such a small town, unfortunately for me, the irritation and lack of warmth looms as the story winds to an unsatisfactory end. South Indian, Tamil, Madurai life is brought out vividly with most of its culture, corruption, cuisine, captured correctly and cogently including the Gods and the ayyayoyoos. But the entire town is gullible and almost everyone is superstitious. The educated are simplistic and mothers are fat. And everyone likes Tea. Like the British. Only the politicians behave as politicians. But that is expected out of a species and its configuration that transcend culture and race. The promise of a preposterous premise of a white man falling from the sky onto the protagonist (or is he the antagonist?) of the story was not fulfilled in the later chapters. I still like the cover drawing by Jayanto Bannerjee.
In a country with its money denoted in thirteen different languages, I am only too aware of what I read as Gitanjali in English is not all of what Tagore wrote in Bengali. Translations inevitably reduce, if not malign, the richness of the native culture and language. But I cannot handle translations like “I’ll go and come back” for a Tamil common-talk like pOituvarEn. A simple I’ll be back would carry the meaning intact. If such a ‘literal’ translation is done by Mike Stocks in the pretext of humor, I couldn’t see how a reader of English origin would enjoy the ‘humor’ in it without knowing what was translated. On the other hand, a Tamilian is left confused as to what was being said. After more such literal translations in Hairy Pugal (what is this name in Tamil?), Banyan Balu (nope, no such translated Tamil name), Eight Songs (ettuthogai?) and Four Hundred (agananooru or purananooru?), I just feel annoyed. A pada-pada-pada in the heart, you know. Thankfully, Thirukkural escapes with a The Sacred Couplets. Such pretensions could have been avoided because, in other instances, the capable author brings out the essence of the culture and some of its absurdities without having to resort to such gimmick. Here is an observation by the author about holy-men in the eyes of the native people:
They desire their guru to be worthy of their awe. After-all, the very biggest contemporary holy men swan around in fleets of air-conditioned luxury cars while police keep the roads clear of other traffic; during processions they repose in huge paladins carried by teams of human donkeys, as lackeys fan them down with banana leaves; on long-distance trips they charter their own planes, or are flown around in private jets lent to them by murky industrialists. And so while the devotees are impressed by the humble simple lifestyle of their guru, they wouldn’t mind witnessing dashes of extravagant splendour, too, to set off his praisworthy humility. A facility to entertain paradoxes with equanimity has always been a signal feature of spiritual sensitivity at the highest levels.
Hits the South Indian gullible bulls eye.
Book: White Man Falling
Author: Mike Stocks
Year of publication: 2007
[A review from the newspapers]