We know, we know, the virus is still with us, but an attempt to demystify it, to take it apart, to contextualise it in these many words and emotions is irresistible. Writers and publishers are already at it.
Any event in life, major or minor, warrants a telling. In both fiction and non-fiction, catastrophes, natural disasters, wars, etc. slide into the narrative seamlessly. External as well as internal changes must be chronicled.
Non-fiction of course is a 24/7 churning. Newspapers and social media ensure that opinions and analyses reach us on the spot. Interpretations are multiple and we have a choice if we want to feed preconceived notions or dramatically change story so far.
Fiction takes time though. Imagination needs time to collaborate with itself, to percolate, to apply itself as comprehensively and personally as it can. There is always a mute waiting involved after any global tragedy, for the world to pick up the pieces and put in place its suffering, locate the ultimate triumph of the human spirit.
Some might think it too hasty for storytellers to reflect on the situation. But, given that the time frame really doesn’t hint at a full stop, and no one, including authors, can arrogantly presume to go on forever in the face of such rampant fatalities, it is only organic that the writing community would cope with the worst medical trauma unleashed upon us in recent times by finding perspectives in fiction.
The pandemic collection by default includes global bestsellers in the nonfiction segment, with scientists, environmentalists and politicians having their say. Already, the eye has been cast back to apocalyptic sci-fi that may have been futuristic then but are possible now, and to uncontrollable pestilences in the past like the plague and Spanish flu that haunt us till today. Jose Saramago’s Blindness and Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera have returned to reading lists.
Poets and authors are saying it like it is, so that we have spooky thrillers, cautionary tales, timely denouements and even poetry.
Singing in the Dark is an anthology of poetry under lockdown published by Penguin India. Put together by K Satchidanandan and Nishi Chawla, it features poets like Ashok Vajpayee, Arundhathi Subramaniam, Jerry Pinto and Vijay Seshadri among others.
Shobhaa De’s Lockdown Liaisons delves into today’s traumas via short fiction. Brought out by Simon and Schuster India, it includes stories like Lockdown Funeral, Wedding Cancelled and Vodka...and No Tonic.
Gayatri Gill’s debut book is also collection of stories, The Day Before Today: Lockdown Stories. All stories end on a note of anti-climax or continuing drama in this illustrated book brought out by Speaking Tiger.
Udayan Mukherjee’s new book too is an anthology of short stories: Essential Items and Other Tales From a Land in Lockdown, published by Bloomsbury India.
While all stories in all these books describe grim details of the pandemic, there are also moments of hope and humanitarian impulses. As one character tells a traveler in Udayan's book: ‘Oh, there’s no one coming here now. Stay as long as you like. We aren’t used to turning away guests in a difficult situation.’
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is the co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.