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Thursday
Nov032016

A Box of Ticky-Tacky by Somdatta Goswami, reviewed by Dustin Pickering

            The generation gap is an age-old theme in world literature from certain ancient Greek myths to Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons. Human society, in assimilating variety, assembles old and young side by side. Naturally, tensions arise from both parties’ fears and abilities. The young are alive and healthy, preparing for a full life. The elders, having already lived long, impart their wisdom. The old perhaps see a semblance of their former selves in their children, and the young may fear guidance because of their own stubborn wills.

            In A Box of Ticky-Tacky [Chitrangi, Calcutta], characters are influenced by such generational differences in a profoundly distinct way. In “Old Papa Crown” we are met with an elderly gentleman who refuses to succumb to his old age. Even in sickness, he rebounds with humor and meets with the schoolchildren he greeted every morning from inside his house. This seemingly trivial detail reminds the reader that the smallest of gestures still resonate in life’s expansive dream.

            These stories, told imaginatively and recounted as vividly as actual memories, are united morally in the reminder that life is not to be taken for granted. “To Fly to Zurich” is amusing and ironic as well as instructive in this central motif. An elderly woman’s trip to Sweden is complicated by several small misunderstandings until she finally loads a plane without trouble. When she arrives in Zurich, she has no way to contact her son who she was to meet after landing. Overall, we perceive her as one resolved to visit “the most beautiful country” even if she gets lost in it. As she recounts the tale she explains to her listener, who is surprised at her determination, that she had nothing to lose after so long a life.

            Our elders aren’t the only celebrated heroes of this collection. In “The Queen of the Roads”, a young woman learns to drive by competing with her father. She becomes an expert on cars and driving. When she stops to help an older gentleman change his tire, the crowd is in awe of her unique capability. This story has other strange surprises. I found it to be the most amusing and imaginative writing of the book. The situation is possible yet undeniably fantastic.

            A more universally valuable lesson is uncovered throughout.  This lesson is easily recognized in “The North Wind”, a story about a university student who is bored of the classroom and her studies. The last sentence of the story reads, “Life holds our key to happiness in such very insignificant things...and it is for us to discover and recognize them...they are there...just under our noses...for us to find them!” The collection proclaims an honest optimism to supersede pain, error, and harsh circumstances. In “Welcoming William”, a severe accident alters the course of an arranged family. In “The First Day of Baishakh”, a marriage is suddenly cancelled to the couple’s despair, but the disappointed bride-to-be restores her family’s fortune with her patient efforts and optimism. The example is one of outstanding resolution. Even when faced with sudden heartbreak, forbearance makes flowers bloom. At the end of “Baishakh”, she acknowledges the approach of her own life’s end and prepares to let go for the sake of her grandchildren. Her struggle in these final moments is poignantly detailed.

            The title of the collection seems silly and ultimately frivolous. Perhaps Somdata Goswami intends to be playful yet wise. Ticky-tacky holds things together and keeps them in place. These stories show life’s wisdom to be one of guiding us proper to our highest lights, and holding life together even when it is passing.

            The collection ends with “The Sign of Love”, the most delicate and touching story in the collection. The truth contained within it exhibits a sharp contrast to the book’s other themes. Instead of a celebration of life, we see the despair of unjustified killing and vengeance. In this example, we are reminded that life is precious by an entirely different situation. As the hero is gunned down violently, his final gesture is the sign of love to his deaf students. Our imaginations are left to reflect on what could have been; why was such a heroic and gentle man murdered by misguided revolutionaries he once sought to benefit? Why is their ideal counter to the act and results of the act?

            Somdata Goswami is a careful storyteller. Her thoughts are masterfully disguised within the narratives so the reader can investigate. The circumstances of the stories are unique and excite the imagination. Her ability to guide the reader as plot develops toward resolution demonstrates the patience of intellect and clarity of thought necessary for genuine storytelling. Each character created by Goswami is perhaps a figment of our own consciousness, some hidden invention of our daydreaming, or a unique characterization of our innermost desires. While we read to entertain our longing for escape, these stories read our hearts for the reason we wish to escape.

 

Dustin Pickering is Editor-in-Chief of Harbinger Asylum and founder of Transcendent Zero Press,

 

 

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