Collection of Short Stories
New Delhi: Authors Press. 2015
Pages xxii + 256| Rs 295
Realistic, elevating and well-crafted stories
Turquoise Tulips is a gripping collection of twenty-four short stories on a variety of themes from the eclectic pen of Dr Ashok Patwari, a USA-based writer cum medical consultant who knows his creative job well. He skilfully lays the foundation for the structure and edifice of the story. As he builds the base, the atmosphere relevant to the story begins enveloping the scene. In his storytelling art, there are many graces which Ashok himself has ingeniously perfected though he may have been inspired by some of the writers of international repute. He is down to earth in characterisation, and his craft and style carve a niche for him as a memorable storyteller.
Atreya Sarma who has written Foreword for this collection captures the very soul of Ashok's craft when he beautifully observes, "With a very rare sensitivity, he fashions his characters by capturing their physical actions, the throbs of their hearts, the waves of their minds, and the vibes of their souls," and sums up, "A spirit of 'malice to none, and charity for all' seeps through this collection."
Ashok’s stories read like warm recollections of genial gentlemen and ladies from their unwritten memoirs. He has often a point to make and makes it obviously and obliviously too, fascinated by the progression of his logical thought. It may at first sound like an intellectual disquisition but out of it slowly and imperceptibly emerges a fascinating story like an undercurrent shooting up as a graceful fountain. And like a seasoned artist he takes care that the thinker in him does not get the better of the creative writer in him (‘Down Flows the Stream’). His creative fancy is pleasingly harmonized with his critical analysis and this blend goes into his characterization.
For example, ‘Bridges, not Barriers’ doesn’t read like a conventional story but like a succession of events and persons passing before us as from an authentic chronicle seeming to have relevance for our times and tempers. Father John who is shot dead with a gun by one of his own ardent disciples is a patriot, preacher and pacifist. His last words have a lasting message: “Promise me that both of you will build bridges… remove barriers… eliminate illiteracy and ignorance of our countrymen.”
Hazi Saheb in ‘Fajr Azaan’ is a man of peace while alive, and he becomes an angel of peace after death. This evolution is wrought skilfully through life and death, through service, sacrifice and martyrdom.
The technique of the thematic treatment can be as pleasingly varied as it can be. ‘Musings in Montego Bay’ makes an absorbing reading like a skilfully written detective story. It’s all fun and sunshine in the beginning, but it moves on hanging in suspense, mystery, fright and premonition and ends with a tragic death.
A great writer is endowed with not only a profuse creative imagination but also an ability to control it by a regulating intelligence. A deficiency of this faculty lapses into a work that is shapeless and full of mere words signifying nothing, whereas its fecundity blooms in right verbal harmony. And we find such harmony in Patwari’s stories.
Ashok Patwari has a negative capability which means a capacity to identify himself totally with the character as he draws it. He can feel, think and speak as the character does. That is how he can use the cultural idiom of the people he portrays, wherever this locus is situated on the globe – in America or Finland or Vietnam or Male or India; if it is India, it can be again, the north or south, the east or west. We are impressed with Ashok’s thoroughness with every necessary and relevant geographical detail, or the story’s setting. When he writes about a place, we feel as if he belongs to that place by his birth and domicile. He writes with such an intimate touch. That’s why his stories carry conviction.
A narrator, even an excellent narrator, stands, sometimes willy-nilly, between the reader and the character, consequently blocking a reader’s direct perception of the mind and heart of the character. Conscious of this temptation, Ashok Patwari facilitates as much direct contact between the reader and the character as possible, without becoming an interpreter himself.
‘Amma’ illustrates beautifully how we put up with people whom we dislike for the sake of those who claim our love and affection totally. An overpowering tenderness of human relationships makes no sacrifice too big for the sake of the loved ones. As we close the story, we are invariably swept off our feet by a tender feeling that melts us away out of compassion. Characters emerge finer and nobler and bind us to them with a feeling of loving closeness.
Another beautiful story is ‘The Saviour.’ A dogged, self-willed, frightfully independent-minded sexagenarian saves himself from the disaster caused by hurricane Sandy – assisted just by the old Remington typewriter owned since his youthful days and his pet dog, Damien. He immortalizes Damien as the friend of his master all out to save him at any cost.
‘Lord, Forgive My Friend!’ has a pride of place in the collection. It’s a great story in point of theme, treatment, message and style. Patwari prefers people like Sudhakar who are rule-following, noble-minded and honest and compassionate, and not those like Gopal motivated only by self-interests. The ilk of Gopal don’t have any value-system to guide their lives. Blessed is the world with people like Sudhakar living in it who, with their sweet temper and noble deeds make it a more and more lovable place to live in.
‘Quest for a Guru’ and ‘Swami Ji’ deepen the readers’ interest as they move along. The transcendental truth contained in the Hindu philosophical thought begins to dawn with iridescence on our far-reaching consciousness. The arrogance of a rationalist transforms into the humility of a supplicant in distress. The enchanting quiet of the Himalayan ranges is beautifully harmonized with the divine peace of the modest saintly ashrams.
Patwari knows how to bring in rhythm – rhythm in reverse – into the story. Manu, son of a very highly placed officer in Delhi, engaged in post-doctoral research in anthropology on tribal life in one of the most backward areas in Bihar, settles down there with the natives, and marries a tribal girl. He works successfully for the integrated development of the village. With his encouragement and support, his wife prosecutes higher studies and seeks and gets a decent job in the department of tribal welfare, and settles down to a cosy life in Delhi with her child. Manu remains single in the tribal village working for their welfare! (‘The Native’).
‘Vendetta’ is a beautiful story with a fine message. The angelic words of the father of Joshua, brutally shot dead by a lunatic, that he would have forgiven his son’s killer even if he were alive because if he doesn’t forgive him, Christ will not also forgive him brings about a great change in Jabbar hungering for revenge against the killers of his kin. ‘Want to go to My Village’ focuses on how our nostalgic thoughts are tied to the roots of our nativity throughout our life. ‘Whining for Justice’ holds a mirror to the sad tale of our women’s growing insecurity and dishonour.
The title story ‘Turquoise Tulips’ is a moving story which is about an unfortunate mother’s all-out tireless efforts to keep kindling a hope for life in her dying child afflicted with cancer. Patwari’s art causes visible gloom to descend on the story. His art has an added grace in that the analysis of a character or of a scene or of a situation becomes an integral part of his creative composition. Even as he analyses, he evokes; even as he evokes, he analyses – a distinguishing trait of his art. There is as much the play of analytical intellect as that of creative fancy and imagination.
A creative writer should have a graphic style by which what I mean is that it should have an instantaneous evocative power; from his words should issue forth a symmetrical picture pleasing to the eye and refreshing to the mind. Patwari’s style is clear, racy, fluent and graceful, and so at once captivating.
Patwari’s stories are not over-trammelled with gorgeous ideals and pretentious lifestyles. They are as natural and as endearing as the smell of the earth that has got wet in a light rain. A noble message is skilfully interwoven in the very texture of the narrative and made dexterously to sink into our subconscious mind. Unlike an overstressed moral it doesn’t prejudice us against it.
There is no monotony in Patwari as he is not repetitive in point of content, craft or stylistic devices. With no moralizing he just presents life as perceived by him, and it passes through the crucible of his artistic sensibility, and as it passes, it carries his perspective deep down in the core of it.
Ashok writes without bitterness; he writes with great tolerance and balance. His primary focus is on the better side of man. He touches upon the other side with great restraint. He evokes feelings of love, pity, compassion, respect and adoration rather than those of bitterness, anger, frustration and disgust. Such writing helps strengthen the right sensibilities and liberal attitudes in the readers. And I hope for more collections like Turquoise Tulips from the pen of Dr Ashok Patwari.