A Trip Through Several Universes
Malini Seshadri
A RED-NECKED GREEN BIRD (Shivappu Kazhuthudan Oru Pachhai Paravi) by Ambai. Translated from the original Tamil by GJV Prasad Simon & Schuster, 2021, 164 pp., 399.00
August 2021, volume 45, No 8

‘Did he live? Did he die? Was it a search? Or a hunt? When she set him free, did she also succeed in setting herself free?’ In this eclectic collection of thirteen short stories, Ambai’s characters pose existential questions that are intriguing, even disturbing, because they defy mundane answers.

Why are these thirteen stories within the covers of this one book? There is no common thread that runs through them as regards genre, style, and theme. Yet each flaunts the author’s touch, those ‘aha’ moments, those sucker-punch lines that make you go back and read what went before. Stories of love and loss, of loneliness and death, of the detritus of lives viewed through a magnifying glass, jostle with journal-entry-style accounts set in recognizable historical periods, stories of whimsy, of fantasy, of virtual reality. Ambai takes us on a trip through several universes, from the realm of the mind to the cosmos, and even through multiple dimensions, when the line between reality and fantasy blurs and disappears. We set aside our disbelief, and the impossible becomes possible.

The winter of life, the death of a mind, the demands and the dependence of old age, the detritus of lives, are recurrent themes. In ‘The Crow with the Swollen Throat’ we meet a woman who is taking care of her increasingly senile father. The old man is picky about food and demanding to be indulged in every whim. He develops untreatable throat cancer and has a hard time swallowing. And then there is the crow which visits the kitchen window sill. It has a swollen throat and needs to tilt its head sideways to get food down its throat. It appears without fail when fresh food is being cooked. It rejects leftovers. The father and the crow meet the ends of their lives in different ways. The woman’s mind asks, ‘Was it a crow at all?’

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