The Provenance of the Literary Editor

In the beginning God created the Virat Purusha – the Cosmic Being – out of the atoms of his own being. Consequent to which, he divided his comprehensive form into fourteen parts and created the fourteen worlds. The Virat Purusha then sprouted a mouth. And Agni, the lord of fire, took up residence in his mouth. Thereafter he sprouted a tongue: Varuna, lord of the seas, graced it with his presence. And, as and when they developed, Aswini devas, the twin physicians of the gods, resided in his nostrils and Indra, the lord of thunder, in his eyes; Maruta, the lord of the air, on his skin; the lords of the eight cardinal directions in his ears and the Prajapatis on his penis and Mitra, the sun god in his anus. The Virat Purusha then developed an intellect and Brahma the creator promptly took up residence there. Then came the turn of the ego. Siva the destroyer staked that out. Then the Brahmins issued forth from his face; the Kshatriyas from his arms; Vaisyas from his thighs and lastly the Sudras from his feet. And towards the very last, out of his heart, brimful of kindness, sprang forth the poet, the sole arbiter of the poetic world, with pen and parchment in hand.

The Virat Purusha dispatched them about their respective duties. The five elements and the lords of the eight cardinal directions, the sun and the moon, the devas and asuras, all hastened to assume their cosmic duties. And in their wake, like an effulgent brand of humanity, the poet too moved on, stroking his beard.

After these people had set out, the Virat Purusha was disturbed by the nagging suspicion that there still remained something inside him. Yes, there definitely was something irritating his heart. So he brought that thing forth.

A very small person, veritably a speck of a person, greedy eyed and blank faced. The small person, kneeling subserviently before the Virat Purusha, held aloft a pair of wooden clogs, a box of snuff and a reserved ticket.

“ These are the poet’s. He forgot them. I’ll just give them to him and be right back.”

And the Virat Purusha was delighted. And decreed that this puny creature henceforth be known in the literary world as ‘Editor’

Translator’s Note

V.P. Sivakumar was born on the fifteenth of May 1947, the year of India’s independence, (a fact which makes him almost a ‘midnight’s child’), into a middle class family at Mavelikkara in central Kerala. Life for him definitely was not the proverbial bed of roses. Reminiscing about his early life he once stated that he had turned to books because they offered a respite from the constrictions of life at home. So the boy worked his way through the books and periodicals in the Municipal library of his hometown.

The latter included the most popular children’s magazine of the time, Ambily Ammavan, Chanda Mama in its English and Hindi avatar, which employed a stilted, contrived language to spin its yarns about the most improbable and fantastic characters and situations you could ever imagine. No one would have believed that anything remotely resembling a literary style could ever be fashioned out of the travesty of style that was employed by the magazine in question, but amasingly enough, that was what Sivakumar did when he started to write his stories which nicely blended biting sarcasm with an impish sense of humour. The most fecund period of his literary life, the twelve years from 1970 to 1982, strictly speaking, is not the most felicitous one of his life. That was the time when he wrote like one possessed. There followed a period of absolute silence from which he made a spectacular comeback with stories that hint at the possible evolution of a new philosophic vision, better control over his chosen medium, and the burgeoning of a style shorn of all ostentation. But the promise was never fulfilled as he lost his battle with terminal cancer on 27 July 1993 when he was barely forty-six.

Sivakumar is one among the many voices that go to make the modernist narrative in Malayalam .It is customary to categorise him as a short story writer, but the term, used in connection with him, would be a misnomer. What he actually attempted to do was to write anti-fiction, which is quite different from saying that he attempted meta-fiction. With his compatriots M.Sukumaran, Paul Zacharia and N.S. Madhavan, he delighted in problematising short fiction, subverting the basic norms and breaking all the rules with unconcealed glee. For him there is no redemption in concerted social action. He envisions the individual as a puny little thing taking on forces that he cannot even begin to comprehend. This subhumanisation is part of his literary make- up contributing not a little to the black humour that pervades his stories. His early writing is marred by verbosity and a tendency to sacrifice the compactness of form for that cynical and often crude mot juste. His later stories that evince a style pared down to the essentials, – especially the stories ‘The Idol’ and ‘ Mother Has Come’- are so different from the early ones in every conceivable way that they might well be mistaken for someone else’s work. The present story is vintage Sivakumar. The Vishnu Purana provides the framework. This creation myth, explaining among other things, the provenance of the caste system, has, down the ages, served to keep the Sudra, the lowest in the rung, firmly in his place. Why shouldn’t it serve its purpose in keeping the literary editor in his place?

The racy flavour of his style, distilled from sources as varied as the Vetala and Panchatantra tales that he read in his early years, and the Borges and Kafka that he read later, is unfortunately one that defies translation.

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V.P. Sivakumar

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