The book “The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun” by Anil Menon is a stellar collection of short fiction.
In the title story, “The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun”, a couple discovers that the reorganization of their personal library has an unintended consequence on their shared reality; “The Robots of Eden” is set in a world where stories are no longer essential to being human, as civilized people have developed better technology to arbitrate their emotions; in “Into the Night,” an old Brahmin ponders the comfort of an ancient language when the future renders it obsolete; and “How Not to Say the Ramayana” is a Borgesian journey into a Ramayana story like no other.
This book demonstrates once again why Anil Menon is one of the most formidable names in contemporary Indian writing.
Read an excerpt from the book below.
Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is from the short story “Into The Night”.
Ramaswamy lay in bed, facing the wall, the blanket pulled up to his neck, whispering softly a mixture of English and Tamil.
‘Who are you talking to? Are you doing OK? Do you have leg pain?
When he turned around, he saw Ganga in her nightgown, her face lit from below by the night light in the bedroom.
‘I’m fine. Thinking is all. About the good old days.
She sat down next to him and put a hand on his chest. ‘Not able to sleep?’
‘How much sleep can I get?’ He hesitated, then spoke hastily. ‘Ganga, I want to go back to Mumbai. I can’t live here with this freezing cold and twenty-four hours of rain. Everything is upside down and upside down. From the nose through the back of the head to the ear, as they say. A simple man like me only needs his two servings of grain rice and a glass of water. That I can get for myself. Why should I be a burden to you? I return.’
“We can’t have this conversation over and over again. Haven’t you watched the news from India? And there’s no one to take care of you. In a few years, your health problems will only get worse. If anything happens—’
‘Krishna-bhagavan will take care of me as he has for all these years.’
‘Don’t be childish! Amma has taken care of you all these years, not your goddamn bhagavan. So at least give credit where it’s due.
He was delighted to see her voice rise and her accent turn to its natural roundness of South India. Ha! Not such a tall lady in a boot-suit after all. He remembered roly-poly; he had walked this little girl home from kindergarten every day, pigtails and upturned face, hopeful smile and Appa, Appa, please can I have some kulfi, Appa.
Where did everything go wrong with Ganga? Was it when he took her from Tamil school to English high school? Or was it the day he had found her smoking with the sweeper, a Shudran, whose hand was wrapped in her open blouse? Or was it after she got involved in college politics, morcha’ing and starving fasting and speaking out for all the thugs and unnecessary causes, growing increasingly angry, utterly unable to speak, even Paru had given up, until Ganga’s final hug in anger tears at the airport, he felt that she was saying goodbye.
I should have disciplined her more, thought Ramaswamy, but as they say, a donkey never has a tiger for a sire.
‘Can we go to a doctor?’ He asked.
She was nictitating and geometric patterns appeared on her eyelids; the room seemed filled with a new awareness. He felt there were other people in the room, watching him, listening to him, maybe even commenting on him.
‘Apa? Are you in pain? I can call an ambulance—’
‘No no. I just want an estimate of how much time I have left.
“No one can tell you! »
“Not even science?
She smiled and touched his face. “Not even science.”
What was the use then? He lay down on the bed and turned to face the wall.
‘Apa? Look at me.’ She shook him. ‘Look at me.’ And when he did, she continued in the same calm voice. “I know this is all very strange and new to you. And Amma is not here to make it easy. We won’t be staying at Meridian forever. But wherever we go next, life will change and we will have to adapt. Otherwise, we might as well be stones. Evolution-‘
‘What is this evolution-evolution you keep brandishing like a stick?’
“It’s a theory that says we don’t need history to explain how we all got here. It was first clearly explained by Darwin—’
‘Speak in Tamil, Ganga. Speak in Tamil.
He listened to his fantastic story about fish that had developed lungs and learned to walk on land, a Xerox machine called DNA in every atom, and so on. As she spoke, her alloy-treated hair curled outward, a controlled movement that had nothing to do with the wind or a natural head movement. Someone was playing with her hair. He closed his eyes.
When she said “cells”, he imagined tiny telephones, but when she said “chromosome”, “molecule”, “recombination” and “species”, nothing came to mind. It couldn’t be true. None of this could be true. If that was true, then he would never see Paru again. This one life would be the only life. It couldn’t be true. He marveled that she could swallow such an unbelievable story but refused to accept the simplest, most obvious explanation that even the dumbest child could understand: God made it. But he didn’t want her to stop talking.
‘Ganga, this god of evolution, is he Christian or just another religion? And if it’s Christian, then who is Jesus?
She was silent for a few long seconds, and when she spoke, it was quiet enough to be almost a sigh. ‘Aaliyah is right, Appa. It’s not just homesickness. You ran out of time. We need to reconnect you to the world. The first step is to equip yourself with a visor. It’s not as good as having Amma or a hearse, but it’s not better than nothing. You will begin to see.
Excerpted with permission from The inconceivable idea of the sun, Anil Menon, Hachette India. Read more about the book here and buy it here.