Friday, 12 August 2016

For Bread Alone. By Mohamed Choukri

For Bread Alone

Mohamed Choukri. Translated from Arabic by Paul Bowles.

Telegram. First published 1973

This is a clear-eyed, unsentimental narration of the pre-teen to teenage years of the author as he was growing up desperately poor in Morocco in the early 1950s. His father was a brutal man who killed one of the author's brothers and allowed many more of his siblings to die by neglect. Desperate for food, for bare survival, Choukri roamed the streets of Tangiers and other towns. He stole, cheated, did odd jobs, sold drugs, tried his hand at pimping, everything. He had many encounters with the police, and once during a jail term, was introduced to Arabic poetry. That struck a spark in him, igniting a fire to learn to read and write, to become literate and to become a litterateur eventually.

The book is brief and sparse. There is no attempt to philosophize or to apologize. There is no exaggeration of the troubles, no sentimental navel-gazing of how things might have been different, better. There is not much idea of the political struggle for independence from France that was then ongoing. The book has an intellectual force that is belied both by its size and by the lack of widespread recognition for the author and his works.     

Vairamuthu Sirukathaigal

Varimuthu Sirukathaigal


Surya Literature (P) Ltd. First published as a collection 2015.

The book is a collection of short stories that Vairamuthu, the Tamil film lyricist and poet, first published in the weekly 'Kumudum'. There are forty stories in all, each of about 10 pages in length. They deal with a set of human emotions, in a range of backgrounds. The first story, for example, talks about a man working in the US, unable to attend his mother's lonely funeral in an Indian old age home. Other stories are of a similar nature. Some take place in urban settings, others in distinctly rural areas, apparently untouched by 'civilization'. Some are about the very poor and destitute, others about wealthy aristocrats, many about the middle class. There are a scattering of love stories, mostly with unhappy endings. There are few rather raw descriptions of sex. Some descriptions almost seem deliberately designed to disgust -  but that too is a human emotion, after all. One story is set in the 2015 earthquake in Nepal. It describes a man, trapped in the rubble with his love, keeping her alive by feeding her his urine! The story seems based on a real life occurrence during a building collapse in Bangalore, when two men kept alive by drinking each other's urine - or so it was reported. 

Altogether, the stories themselves are unimpressive, pushing banal and rather reactionary ideas about human relationships - though I am sure many fans of Vairamuthu, and the author himself, would strongly contest the use of these adjectives. Nevertheless, that's how I saw the work, suitable only to offer the middle class reader of the 'Kumudum' minor titillation as well as the momentary false comfort of being a consumer of 'literature'. The language is inventive and, as may be expected, lyrical. Many of the images Vairamuthu creates with his words are startlingly original. Also, the rural dialects of Tamil seem well-represented - though, not being much of a reader in Tamil, I hesitate to say too much about this. There are however too many puns, detracting from the seriousness of the story. In fact, often, even his serious images do not contribute to the flow, but seem to exist only to demonstrate the author's literary virtuosity.