Ways of Dying: Stories & Essays is the sixth publication in the Aleph Olio series. Much like other works in the series such as Love and Lust, Notes from Hinterland, In a Violent Land, Ways of Dying is an ‘olio’ or miscellany of remarkable works of fiction and non-fiction, all of which harp on the sure companion of life: death.
Through the assemblage of works from renowned writers such as Amitav Ghosh, Mahasweta Devi, Ruskin Bond, George Orwell, Kolakaluri Enoch and others, the anthology traverses across multiple spatio-temporal geographies, with a few works rendered in translation. Through this, the collection explores not only the different ‘ways’ of dying, but also of remembering and re-presenting death. It harps as much on the ephemerality of life, and finality of death, as it does on the ethical and collective act of writing/reading, and through it, memorializing the bygone. Overall, a tenor of patient and poignant contemplation characterizes many of the works in this collection as it presents to us sketches from personal to public memory.
Ways of Dying opens with Amitav Ghosh’s profound essay titled ‘The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi’ which presents to the reader Ghosh’s memory of the mob frenzy and communal riots that broke out in Delhi, as an aftermath to the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Through this work, Ghosh presents the unfinished nature of Indian Partition as it shook up the commoner’s naïve faith in constitutional secularism and harmony. In recollecting his experiences, Ghosh writes about the difficulty of remembering such experiences of violence and yet emphasizes the ‘urgency of stories we have not written’. ‘The Ghosts of Mrs. Gandhi’ resonates with Amitav Ghosh’s Sahitya Akademi Award-winning novel, The Shadow Lines (1988), in which the struggles of a post-Independent, post-Partitioned, nation coming into its own are fictionally animated through a personal family narrative. Ghosh’s essay is a piercing opening piece for the anthology under review, not only for the contemporary relevance of its subject matter in public and academic discourses, but for the cautious preparation of the reader for the density of the subject the anthology seeks to explore further.