New Lens: a review 'When Jaya met Jaggu'

Reviewed by: Sutanuka Ghosh Roy


Title: When Jaya met Jaggu

Author:  Annapurna Sharma

Page: 187

ISBN: 978-93-91431-35-8 (Paperback)

Edition: (2022)

Price: ₹ 400 * $ 14.99.

Published by Hawakal Publishers, Kolkata, New Delhi, India.


A Annapurna Sharma
      Annapurna Sharma is a nutritionist by profession and a writer by passion. Her maiden book of poems Melodic Melange has been awarded for Excellence 2019 by Pulitzer Books. When Jaya met Jaggu is her latest collection of short stories. There are nine stories in this collection based on the complex theme of love. Life, love, and art blend so delicately in this collection. The stories are from small towns and the themes are principally contemporary – child labor, displacement, east vs west, Alzheimer’s and human fragilities, the conflict between man and nature, etc. Sharma has embraced the middle-class and the mundanity.

The opening story “Jasmine Maid” is a realization story of a child maid that catches the readers unawares. Malli the little girl works as a maid “when her mother fell sick, she took over the job like it was sarkari naukari”. The juxtaposition of Indian words with English is a clever ploy of the writer to make it feel more at home. Indian writers writing in English have come a long way and have been using the English language very effectively in the Indian context and there have been warm-hearted global acceptance. Malli’s connection with the ‘black idol of Krishna’ is intricate and with each passing day, the bond becomes intimate. Sharma has deftly brought out how Malli is doubly marginalized as a child maid and also as a girl child. The little girl understands the ways of the world in a bitter-sweet way. “When alone, she opened her fist. There were three chocolates soaked with the sweat in her hand. On her way home, she threw them in the dustbin, the big one, where no one, even Baba or Madam could find the Coffee Bites. The sweetness oozed into her and spread like venom”. Coffee Bites for Malli associates memories of fear, sexual assault, forbidden desire, and other turbulent emotions. The readers are at once moved with empathy for the subaltern.

Sutanuka Ghosh Roy
      “Coffee Pleasure” the next story written in an epistolary form sets the tone of realism and humanism that shaped short stories and their proponents in modern times. The titular story “When Jaya Met Jaggu” symbolizes a Dickensian universality in an old lady’s (Jaya) contentious relationship with the world around her as she gropes for her identity. “Her lips curled credulously. She wanted to meet him. Nice man, she thought and turned around to leave the cage. She called the room a cage. She was often surrounded by men and women dressed in white from head to toe. They never allowed her to move freely. She missed home and the warm sand castles she made on the beach”. Her memory is elusive like many others who suffer from Alzheimer’s. The world around her is what Sharma draws her creative sustenance. Jaya at 55 forgot every other thing in her life --“her memory hanged in the air as fragile as a balloon with holes”—she did not even remember her son Amar however she somewhat remembered her childhood friend Jagadeesh—Jaggu and expresses her wish to be with him. This embarrasses her son who quickly wears the gauntlet of moral police—“She is 55 years old. What will the society say?” Sharma seems to suggest that life must transcend the self to celebrate ‘life’ through life’s fugitive moments and not confinement. Yet the realist residing in the idealist warns of the visceral violence that a loss of memory can lead to. All finite ambits—the individual, her community, mind, and matter—are transcended in a striking humane denouement. The end of the story feels like the embrace of a sentient universe. “Even after six months, Jaya didn’t remember Jagadeeesh’s likes or dislikes. She trailed him the whole day, just as iron pieces, negligible yet attracted to a magnet”.

      In “The Lame Mango” Sharma seems to have mastered the art of dealing with ultra-sensitive narratives and adapted and directed the story into a moving piece of drama. The narrative of Ajay, Pratibha, Mahuya, Sravan, and others is propelled by an efficient and easy-flowing language that does not loosen its grip even for a moment. Sharma has done a great job as a storyteller who finds expression in the way the story bends to diverse rhythms. “Alka darted like a bushy tailed squirrel and pointed to two saplings planted on either side of the axed mango tree. A house crow landed on the axed mango tree, glancing right and then left at the baby plants. Tears dropped endlessly”. “Gods without inquest” leaves the readers groping with emotions. The characters of Ranga and Rangi stand for two distinct world orders rather than becoming dense and appear to be jerky since “there is no place for greed in their lives”. The story assumes a different kind of storytelling, stitching together the fragments of their lives. “Ranga was intoxicated with selling toddy. Rangi loved red: redness of sky, redness of love, redness of truth, redness of the deity, redness of her fingers”.

  Sharma has depicted the clash of culture between the east and the west in her next story “The Temple under the Tamarind Tree”. The journey from Bengal to Boston remains a search for roots and food is a powerful tool for retrieval for Partho the protagonist of the story who “spent most of the time at the university teaching South Asian Literature”. His mother’s dreams of the fading shapes of God make Sharma’s narrative seem suspended amidst nothingness. The sense of otherworldliness can perhaps be attributed to the distance—of class, lifestyles, realities—that separates the readers from the subject. Myth, tradition, religion, and belief are woven as a continuous loom and Sharma has her reader in thrall with the art of fashioning her narratives with refreshing air. She writes, “tradition never claims lives. It merely holds all beings in a close circle, not the vicious web of spider, but the gossamer of love”.

     When Jaya met Jaggu is one of those books which leave you asking for more. Sharma through her intuitive artistic language and in her quiet way has succeeded in interrogating our established views of love and life as a whole.

 


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