Review: Deepti Menon
“Walls whispered among themselves, each footstep carried a different tale.”
There are tales that wrench the heart, and then there are tales that wrench the heart! In the aptly titled ‘The Dove’s Lament’, Kirthi Jayakumar does not write stories that comfort or please. Her stories sear the heart as she speaks of ‘Genocide’, and “war... the demon that would single-handedly make a whole community of people but a mere memory.” Her well-researched stories reach every troubled corner of the earth, from war-ravaged Rwanda and Bosnia, to child marriages in India and child trafficking in Afghanistan, from the drug market in Columbia to the unrest in Sri Lanka. The reader is left pondering over “nameless faces... that would remain silver filaments in the labyrinthine depths of the survivor’s mind.”
War, anguish, loss and death weave their way through most of the stories, in language that is often heartrending, yet unimaginably beautiful. “I heard Death’s cape swish and flap in the sick winds that Murder blew.”
In ‘Fire in a Ring of Ice’, the imagery freezes the blood. “War does that. It twists life into a serpent; a serpent that hisses in the face of the man that dares to live despite facing it. It coils itself around the man, squeezing him until he suffocates and leaves him for dead.”
Often Kirthi resorts to short words. Like staccato gunshots that depict the horror of the brazen killings. Effective and anguish-filled! The Jewish boy sacrificing his life for his natural enemy, reveals the layers of humanity within each human soul (‘For the Love of a Motherland’). Nightmares flicker in the minds of many of the protagonists, all with painful pasts and anguish within their hearts. Many yearn to go back home, to familiar scenes of past happiness, but are forced to carry within them the weight of their own stories.
One of the most beautiful stories is ‘The Smallest Coffins’, which touches upon the theme of Love being “a greater force than hatred, a greater strength than division.”
‘Desiccated Land’ is a delicate little gift that teeters on fragile lines that cut between religions. “A time would come when the screams of agony would destroy the peace of two nations and the thin red line dividing them.”
‘Princess’ tugs at the heart, with a little girl’s deeply hurt questions to her helpless mother, who is too busy being a slave to an unfeeling community, and leaves one echoing the questions of a distraught mother.
However, through many these stories of tumult, rays of sunshine push their way through in the form of hope, sacrifice and succour from often unexpected quarters, as is illustrated in the stories like ‘Sacrifice’ and ‘A Night to Remember’.
What is noteworthy is how the last tale, ‘Esther’s Story’, ties up the threads that were left unfettered in the first story, bringing a sense of peace to the mother who mourns for her lost son. The message is clear as Esther links her destiny with that of another mother who is reconciled to her son’s death.”The thread of destiny had wound us tight, bringing us closer as we danced the dance of life until we had been bound by the silken fibres of fate.”
The young writer’s mastery over the language is evident in every story, her images sparkle and singe! Every story is backed by an essay that puts the tumults into context. The protagonists carry memories in their hearts and summon strength from every sinew. Not surprisingly, the book ends with the word that every survivor looks up to – resilience!
‘The Dove’s Lament’ deserves to be read. It is a beautifully crafted book that resonates in the modern world, universal in its appeal. As the author herself puts it, this is a book that cuts “the small talk” and goes “right down to know what happened to the people,” and “to mitigate, ‘what man has made of man,’ as Wordsworth beautifully said in his poem, Lines Written in Early Spring.