Tryst with destiny
Reviewed by Amarinder Sandhu

A Journey Forever
By G. A. Kulkarni.
Translated from Marathi by Vilas Salunke.
Frog Books.
Pages 332. Rs 350.

A Journey Forever is a collection of Kulkarniís Marathi short stories translated into English by Salunke. These short stories delve into the realm of the metaphysical, philosophy and the basic tenets of human existence.

Death of a God is an abstract narrative while Kairee: Raw Mango brings out the meaning of life which is too broad to be explained by mere words. The writer has captured the essence of a maturing bond between an orphan and his aunt. The rural scene gains colour with characters like the teacher who "`85would ask students to solve an arithmetic problem and himself go out to smoke a bidi". Full Circle is a tale of despair in which Shantakka, widow of a legendary icon, leads a miserable life and is betrayed by all known to her.

An attempt has been made to reinterpret the Greek mythical stories of Orpheus and Prometheus. The reader can easily follow Orpheus in his journey to Hades. The story Orpheus explores the uncontainable world of darkness where "`85 death is the only true moment, and all metaphors and comparisons covering it do not last, as they burn in an instant.

The Swami is a highly readable story about a man who is forced to renounce the world and who understands the meaning of life and misery in an underground enclosure. The Spot is full of rural dialogue while Ahum: My Self leaves the reader looking for many answers. Aqua Mum is a tapestry of imagination and reality. It is a story that celebrates womanhood. It rightly summarises the condition of women who "`85 are destined to give only a little from our folded palms. That is our share and our only lot". The Snake has Kulkarni at his creative best as he draws the reader into the slithery world of reptiles. The obvious character of Cleopatra boldly invites a snake to bite her and the pleasure enjoyed by the snake had me spell bounded.

Man or Monkey: Dead or Alive and Redemption are stories that have a local setting and engulf the reader into a world of despair. My personal favourite is Iskilaar, a highly appealing story about a man who goes to consult an oracle. The priestess gives the forecast as "seripi iskahar eli". The words hold no meaning for the protagonist and he discovers the answer too late.

Kulkarni has paid attention to the richness of detail which draws the reader in. The stories describe man as the ever worrier who always broods over questions concerning death, kismet, karma, etc. The author takes us into a wider world which discusses lives frozen in time. One fact emerges that what is destined to be will happen. Fortune-tellers, soothsayers and medicants can foretell about the events to come but nothing can prevent them from happening.

The book is an excellent study of primitive questions, some of which remain unanswered, and manís quest for the right answers continues. The stories cannot be placed in any particular genre. Translation is a difficult task and putting in tremendous effort, Salunke has been able to retain the essence of all the stories that are melancholic and may prove too heavy for some of the readers.