Saturday, November 12, 2011

Buying a Fishing Rod for my Grandfather - Gao Xingjian

I have read his novels as they were available in India soon after he won his Nobel for Literature. I always wondered about his selection as a candidate for Nobel Prize, with only a couple of major works available. It is only recently, I could get a copy of his short stories, which are originally published in China before his exile. A collection of 6 stories, specifically chosen by the author himself , originally published in Beijing before he moved to France , says the translator in the introduction.

There are not stories per se, these are more notes and observation of trivial things happening in our daily life. Each of the six stories are short in time frame, but have a large picture of the social set up. The canvas is present and is visible to the observer. The narrator in each of the story is one who either participate or witness the event , trivial in most of the cases, takes place. It is through these visuals, Xingjian gives us the glimpse of the society.

The Temple, first story of this collection talks about a newly married couple on their honeymoon, decides to step down from the train in an unknown station only to create some adventure to their trip. Having understood that this town , typical to any other town, does not boast any attraction except for a temple on top of the hill. "In the park" , written as conversational piece, has two middle aged man and women ( likley lovers prior to their marriage and family) meets in a park and talking. They observer a young lady in one corner of the park crying. They contemplate and debate about the causes of her depression and about helping her. They probably see their own past and the lost opportunity in the troubles of the young lady. Xingjian do not provide any solution, neither does he conclude. We never know the reason of the lady crying, nor whether the middle aged couple managed to shake off their current life and re-unite.

A swimmer developed cramps and nearly drown in the sea at an unnamed resort, barely managed to escape. In his return to the hotel in all excitement to announce the news of his miraculous escape, he find no one interested in him. He wanted to live desperately and to be with the rest of the world. He finds that his escape and excitement does not matter to anyone and the loss of an individual goes unnoticed in this world. As he walks back to the shore dejected, the writers takes our views to a couple of boys running to the water leaving behind a crippled girl on the shore.

"The Accident" tracks the similar line. an accident involved a father and son in a crowded street and its after maths to the street ( note: not to the family) and its momentary occupants. The government machinery goes through the pre-determined process including shifting the body to the hospital, removing the debris and even cleaning the road and the blood stains. The world here has come back to what it was a while ago. "Of Course a traffic accident can serve as an item for a newspaper. And it can serve as the raw material for literature when it is supplemented by the imagination and written up as a moving narrative: this would then be a creation.

The story that bears the title of this collection is about a mans buying a fibre glass fishing rod for his grand father, who we ( the reader) realise later had died long ago. He wants to keep the rod away from his son, for fear of damage, and plans a trip to his ancestral village and realises ( the whole thing is in a delirium) that the place and the world has changed beyond recognition and he will be in no position to find the house and streets he grew up with. Whether he takes up the journey in real sense or not, he takes up an emotional journey through his past and the days with his grand father bringing him close to the place he wanted to be.

Nothing extra ordinary happens in any of the stories, What is impressive and catches your attention is the ease at which he is able to create an atmosphere of familiarity and thus the triviality. I found 4 of these stories very interesting, portraying the loneliness of the individual and the near zero value and impact of him in this vast world.
Buying a Fishing Rod for My Grandfather ( 2004 )

Gao Xingjian ( translated from Chinese by Mabel Lee 2004)

Harper Perenniel

127 Pages
Other Reviews : January Magazine, Guardian, Pop Matters, Wiki Entry

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