Book Review: Pentachord
Pentachord is the second short story collection of
M.K. Raina, his first in English. His
previous collection ‘tsokmodur’ in Kashmiri earned him wide
applaud. The present collection carries a translated version of one of the stories
‘Advice’ from the previous collection. The
other four are his novel creations.
first story of the collection is an engrossing account of how a well to do looking
gentleman beguiles tender and young kids who with an aim to make a kill, return cheated and
heart broken. The story is placed in the sixties of the 20th century when at the
end of a session, students used to sell their used books at half the original price to the
new entrants to the class. Considering themselves quite clever, the boys search for customers who could pay them the
maximum. But the person, who rather hunts them, turns out to be strong-headed and calculative and the boys
return home with not a penny for the books, which has hardly been ever read during the whole year! The story takes
you to Srinagar to roam the roads and lanes of the city on a tonga along with the children. At the end you feel sorry
for the children who are cheated but such were the times and such is the human nature.
The last game,
the second story of the collection too revolves round a group of young bosom friends who upon learning about
the nuances of, then novel game cricket, manage to get a home made willow bat, four sticks for wickets, and a wooden
ball to play the great game. When their ball breaks the windowpanes of a house adjacent to where they had decided to
play, an angry gentleman from the house snatches away their bat etc. and demands a substantial
sum of money for the damages from them, the poor boys. The terrified boys fail to muster
courage thereafter to reassemble at one place or to move around in that area lest they
get caught for not paying for the damages to the house. The wish to play the first game turns out to be their last,
which not only brings to an end the thickness among them but also kills their spirits and courage.
The third, Charu
and the witch,
is the story of fraternal love and courage of a young boy who with the assistance
and support of his pet dog succeeds in bringing back his lost friend from the clutches of a witch who had been a
symbol of terror in the whole village for quite some time. The story is set in an
imaginary location on the banks of a river with a dense forest at the other
bank where the witch is believed to take her victims. The loss of his young friend
jolts the young boy who plans his entry into the forest and with the assistance of his pet, reaches the witch’s hideout.
He very cleverly kills the witch and brings his friend and many other victims of the witch back to the village. This
story employs conventional notions of magic and witchcraft and it will enthrall young minds and give them a spirit of
brotherhood and fill them with courage and determination. Adults may read it and then narrate it to their grandchildren.
Three questions is
the longest story in the collection with several sub-plots interwoven within. It is an account of a
young prince whose search for answers to three questions, before getting crowned, takes him incognito to several
places and in due course of time he finds answers to the questions through experience. The writer employs myth,
human failings, ambitions and achievements to unravel the mysteries of life. Wherein lies one’s lasting
pleasure? In wealth, name and fame, contentment; what does a woman love most? Her jewelry, beauty, children;
what is it that one cannot conceal for long? One’s skill, weaknesses, roots. The
prince learns answers to these questions by living with and learning about the lives
of several people in different places. His search makes him wiser, so is the reader.
The last story Kaal
chakra invokes the concepts of rebirth, karma, karmaphal to
bring home the fact that no ill-deed goes unpunished. A murderer is destined to suffer torment
and torture and the rebirth of the same person who one might have killed may bring him peace. A person who deserts
and disrespects his own parents does not live happily for long. These are sociological and cultural issues and
Indian tradition has stood the test of time and the west too has come to realize
the importance of caring for one’s old parents. But in a blind aping of the west,
we tend to forget our ennobling customs and beliefs as caring for the old, nonviolence
and so forth. The story is engrossing. Adults may read and then narrate them to their kids.
As far as the content part of the stories is concerned, I believe I say
something tangible about it. Some stories are quite good for our young minds and some are in traditional
katha mode, where moral issues have been taken up. Language is quite good.
English is not our mother-tongue, yet
we excel in it. Every language provides scope for extra treatment and complexities, be it one’s mother-tongue
or not. In my opinion, the language part of the stories is extremely well and I believe that the author’s aim has been
to focus both the young as well as middle aged audience.
[Reviewer is Head, Dept. of Linguistics,
Banaras Hindu University.]