Things Left Unsaid written by the noted Odia author Debasis
Panigrahi, is a beautifully woven collection of short stories translated in English. Each of these 14 tales written in a simple, lucid yet honest manner carries a deep and emotive message. The stories are able to uncover a range of complex human emotions but are not bound by the limitations of time or space.
The candor in the writing is reflected as one can connect with the incidents the author cites especially the contemporary phenomenon of “urban disconnect” one has with their humble upbringing in rural areas. Panigrahi as a craftsman uses soliloquies effectively in several of his stories, interspersing them skillfully with the narrative. Another delightfully expressive feature in his writing is the use of poetry, symbolic of the traditional Odia flavour in his writing. One aspect which heightens and enriches the content of his stories is the use of sub-plots or story-within-a-story, making the narrative strikingly gripping and engaging. Reading each of the short stories is a pleasurable experience, as it makes one connect to the honesty and simplicity of the storyline and feel the depth of the characters sketched by him. There might be a sense of poignancy generated through the tales but the themes and the characterisation
resonate in your mind, once you put the book down after reading it.
The first in the series – The Well-Wisher, traces the rise and fall of Anupam, who turns to substance abuse and ruins his earlier “perfect” life. The gospel truth of how the world hails you when you are successful and abhors you when you fall is described here. War over money and ancestral property which splits a family also is highlighted in this story. “Unuttered”, brilliantly describes an urban phenomenon which didn’t exist in earlier times – “Solitude those days did not evoke the pain and despair of loneliness.” In a deeply touching tale, Panigrahi describes how loss of a loved one, can help strangers bond during a journey together which creates an instant connect between them. This emotion is of loss. Cranes and Marigold, resonates with the voice of wisdom which most of our ancestors have insisted on - not to sell ancestral property. The pain and agony one faces as they trade years of emotions, memories, history and culture which is sold with a piece of land is highlighted by the author in this story.
Morning Walk traces the lives of retired people who meet for the “scared ritual” and decide to convert this fun and peace-loving activity into an organised association. Immediately the enjoyable activity is curbed and the politics angle creeps in. A war breaks out among friends as to who would head this association. Pressure builds up and friends turn to foes because of this political slugfest, but eventually all ends well for them as they realise the futility of the matter. The Inevitable traces the events in the life of a spendthrift and how he oscillates from one mishap to another. It analyses his quest to decipher “involvement tor detachment, which one is a better choice?” A Mango Tree in Mumbai jostles between childhood memories and present day, as the protagonist discovers how a symbolic “Mango” tree occupies such significance in his life. ‘House on the Highway’ narrates a tale which is grim and sad, but laced with reality. On how a dhaba on a highway helps a man prosper and eventually rips his entire life apart, when his daughter runs off with a truck driver. It’s a painful tale, but in entirety it is very moving.
The Simpleton traces the life of Upamanyu who loses his honest and upright father, who had been ailing after office politics had affected him adversely. Upamanyu is disillusioned with people around who come to mourn over his father’s death, as his own father had worked hard all his life to reach up in the company and was removed on false charges.
Confession, has the protagonist Mary Sebastian, remembering her entire life rapidly passing by, with no parents or siblings by her side, as she lets her passion for singing being sacrificed to take care of her family. The Mountaineer traces beautifully the difference we possess in perceptions towards life, how one sees climbing up the mountain’s peak or living at the plateau.
Cancer and the flame of the forest, at one level is a disturbing story but then it seems to give a realistic perspective to people living a life with no support system. The story describes the life of Aruna, who reaches a hospital in Hyderabad for being operated for cancer and how she manages to go ahead doing it all alone. From the registration process, to the payment at the hospital to tipping the nurse in her room, she does everything alone. It seems clinical at one level, but then the harshness of leading a lonely life dawns upon the reader as well.
The Unresolved beautifully depicts the relationships we share with people who become very close to us, who we might not be in touch with daily but they remember us till the very end, such is the relationship the protagonist shares with his Durga mausi. Story of Sunrise describes the life of a couple and how they try to communicate with each other to bridge the growing silence between them by communicating through letters. The Pilgrimage narrates the story of a travel agent who meets a woman in a state of distress having lost her purse at the station, and the interactions that follow between the two.
Each story shares the inextricable link to Odisha, whether based in the rural landscapes or in the form of memories one shares of the place they have grown up in. Also there is an innate sense of empathy which the reader shares with the characters created by Panigrahi. There might be a sense of ease while reading these stories, but the impact they leave on your mind in a deep one.