Of pathos & porn

Of pathos & porn

Autoplay: Not-so Stories G Sampath Harper Collins, 2017, pp 186, Rs. 350

This interesting short story collection may not be everyone’s cup of tea. Agent provocateur author G Sampath provides a wild ride that may offend a few sensibilities. That caveat out of the way, let me inform that this is an irreverent, satirical commentary on an India of the near future. As the blurb informs — the book ‘explores the futuristic semi-dystopian Hindu Aryan Republic of India’. True. It occasionally reads like the script of a dystopian science-fiction film. And, yes, our world, country — not exactly utopian by far.

Autoplay is unexpected, funny, bizarre — and occasionally ‘icky’. Tongue firmly in cheek, uncomfortable truths are told; some known, some predictive, alarming and exaggerated for effect. Outrageous ideas, untrammeled verbosity, sentences that savage grammar and exhaust the reader, paragraphs that run into pages — all combine with abundant mention of body fluids plus parts.

The 14 stories are slotted into two groups — Spirit and Flesh. But sequentially they are a mixed bag, since a lineup of ‘flesh’ tales could be off-putting. I was certainly disconcerted by the preponderance of some pointless porn.

The first chapter deals with androids, human clones and any remaining humans; wisecracks about remedies like ‘Ultra Concentrated F’Oreal Age Miracle Serum with youth-boosting Strontium Boosters that make one 60 years younger.’ Sampath notes that a 25-year-old user could disappear into the previous birth. (Ha ha.)

Next, a ‘flesh’ tale presents a man on a toilet-seat reading about a suitcase-body crime, and slowly losing his mind, which slides off into the pot, lost. The story soon finds him continuously dialling the automated Mind Recovery Helpline, all the way to a crazy/crazed conclusion.

Then we have a mildly strange story about a lady’s obsessive love for her depressed pet — a wise caged bird that ponders over the idea of freedom. Number four sees a husband living out his wife’s nightmares. Along the way, he helps bring down a Malaysian jetliner thanks to his stream of urine that has taken off  into space as a hardened jet stream, and hit said airliner. Now, here’s a theory about an actual unexplained tragedy.

A hilarious, more-grounded chapter follows: a six-page-long classified advertisement for an Indian bride. Among the bridal requirements of the groom (a 28-year-old postgraduate in philosophy from Vladivostok Technical University) — ‘Girl should be demure. Should not fall sick more than twice a year…’

Number 6: The Developer. Initially four pages of bedroom talk about a newly-wed wife demanding service in the nether regions from a reluctant, ‘hypofuckinchondriac’ husband, till the tale veers off tangentially to the developer’s real estate exploits and successes — but it was all too much for this reviewer. The distasteful early visuals lingered.

A puzzling account about a child’s physical trauma is followed by yet another over-the-top tale about terrorists using not guns, but — god help us — sticky body fluids. This one is replete with visions of mounds of white stuff and thousands of male organs. Yes, it’s faintly funny. Perhaps, it is also meant to be a perverse satirical take on Gandhian non-violent protest forms.

Many stories do make some points. For instance, the writer talks about a PM who rules for decades, following up on his pet dreams and promises: ‘As the PM was a huge public toilet aficionado, the developer got all the clearances in no time.’ The developer decides to build ‘the Taj Mahal of Shauchalays’.

A couple of stories (the first and the last) were mystifying. Amid all the irony and wordplay, some meaningful thoughts floated about — but got lost in the cloudy word soup.
Thankfully, the rest of the collection was worth one’s time, mostly.

Keeping the best for last perhaps, the second last story managed to lift the tone of the whole exercise. I was totally moved by the empathetic tale of an unnamed schoolboy struggling as he prepares for his Class 11 finals. In a scenario where students sail through easily — ‘Delhi boy Harish Goel emerged the national topper with a jaw-dropping score of 100 out of 100 in chemistry, physics, biology and mathematics... The only disappointment being English Core, in which he got 97’ — the fictional ‘roll number 27’ continues to swot sincerely while the world sleeps, but nothing registers even as the clock ticks on and a sense of helpless terror sets in.

Soon the story concludes without offering solutions, but what is left unsaid and obvious is the indictment of our harsh education system. And yes, solutions are needed. All children, the savvy and the simpletons, all need to be nurtured, made fit for a competitive world.

Pathos and irony combined and ultimately made me ponder, even as the final titular tale on illness and death left me touched but clueless.

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