Monday, November 11, 2013

Did the story end?

Happenings, Nov '13 (update 1)
Sayan Bhattacharya reports on a book reading session of Arjun Shekhar’s second novel End of Story? at the Seagull Bookstore, Kolkata

Kolkata, October 27, 2013: We hear a girl say, “I am part of a lost generation and I refuse to believe that I can change the world ...” She goes on to paint a dystopian world where work is more important than family, where money is happiness. On a black screen, these lines scroll down to the girl’s voice. She continues, “My generation is apathetic and lethargic / It is foolish to presume that / There is hope.” A few seconds of silence and she signs off saying, “All of this will come true unless we choose to reverse it.” And then something startling happens. We hear a complete turnaround. “There is hope / It is foolish to presume that / My generation is apathetic and lethargic …”

Arjun Shekhar makes a point as
Nilesh Maarik looks on
This popular video titled Lost Generation has received lakhs of hits on Youtube and while this complete reversal is startling, the video raises some very profound questions. What is truth? Can there be any absolute truth? Do the stories that are fed to us convey the complete truth? And, what about the stories we tell ourselves daily? How much of it is the truth and how much a reflection of our belief systems? If belief systems are deeply embedded in us, can there be any objective truth? Too many questions? And confounding ones at that?

These were the exact triggers generated by writer and social development activist Arjun Shekhar in a stimulating conversation with Nilesh Maarik, a member of the Kolkata-based youth development NGO Prantakatha. The occasion was the launch of Arjun Shekhar’s second novel End of Story? (Hachette India, Rs.350). The event was organized by Prantakatha in association with Hachette India and Varta, and hosted by the Seagull Bookstore.

The novel takes off on an inventive note where a Supreme Court judgment has banned electronic advertising till an enquiry into a new neuro-auditory technology that creates compelling subliminal ads is completed. Shukrat Ali, a senior journalist with TV channel Khulasa, loses his job and soon his boss is murdered. Shukrat Ali is asked to testify in court. Soon begins a cat and mouse game of passion, lust, love, murder, deceit and politics. Characters with psycho-social disabilities, exploitative channel heads, seductresses, marginalized tribals pop in and out of the pages and take you on a rollercoaster ride through issues that are currently the headlines in the country.

All photo credits: Prantakatha
Just as you think that the breathtaking journey is about to end, Arjun Shekhar spins a new tale or rather tosses some new possibilities and you are forced to ask, “After all, did the story end?” The yarn continues to be woven.

As the moderator invited comments from the audience on their relationship with stories, tales of nostalgia and lament emerged. How this generation doesn’t need stories to go to sleep, how stories are all we have because our past lives on through them and how they become our refuge. However, just like the novel End of Story?, the mood of the evening quickly shifted gears when Nilesh Maarik asked, “What is the role of a story?” When somebody said it should benefit the society, another person quipped who decides what is good for society. Another person opened a Pandora’s Box by saying that all writers tend to keep in mind what the readers want, rather what sells in the market. An ironical statement at a bookstore known for its literary titles! The comment was quickly combated by a feisty lady who asked if selling is all that matters, how can one ever produce art.

Questions, ideas and thoughts flew thick and fast through 90 minutes. Interspersed were games devised by Arjun Shekhar that compelled the audience to revisit some commonly held belief systems. It was time to close the discussion all too soon. Not all the questions were answered and neither was it desirable to look for quick fixes. But what one came back with from the evening was a sense of alertness, a sense of being alive to the innumerable worlds, truths and lies that stories open up – stories that never end and that never should. Just the way Arjun Shekhar began the session telling us how his daughter inspired him to pen this novel because her questions about the world never ceased. Questions that trigger stories, the ones without a final conclusion!


Senior Editor with Kindle Magazine, Sayan Bhattacharya loves labels like queer feminist, film buff and humour junkie, but isn’t sure of using them. He can be reached at sayan@kindlemag.in.

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