Book Review: One Thousand Days in a Refrigerator
One Thousand Days in a Refrigerator is a collection of stories by Manoj Kumar Panda centred around death, translated from Odia to English by Snehaprava Das.
One Thousand Days in a Refrigerator by Manoj Kumar Panda (Purchase)
In her translator’s note, Das makes note of Panda’s “aesthetic of the bizarre”. In some places, this aesthetic takes the form of a cold, Mantoesque voice that narrates strange and tragic events. A man addressing his dead wife says, “My old wife, you know we are untouchables. Our mortal remains will not find their way to the Ganga or the Godavari. They will go into the gutter. Go, my dear, may your soul cross all gutters on its way to the other world.” In other places, the weirdness seems to lose its purpose. There is fiction that benefits from embracing its weirdness, such as the short stories of Kuzhali Manickavel, but unfortunately that isn’t the case with this book. Perhaps there is a rhythm and a sentiment that can only be accessed in the original Odia.
The strongest story in One Thousand Days is When The Gods Left, which revolves around a carrion picker. The man is summoned at all hours of the day to carry away corpses of the nameless; unclaimed people and animals. He does this job diligently and with excitement at the prospect of selling the hide, the meat, and the bones of cows to turn a neat profit after a hard week’s work. If you enjoyed Cyrus Mistry’s Chronicle of a Corpse Bearer, you will enjoy reading this story. Another interesting narrative is The Aesthetics of a Supercylcone which explores the physical, mental, and financial landscape of people after a cyclone has overturned their lives.
Aside from morbidity, there is a recurring theme of sexual violence—physical and emotional, real and implied. Filling in the Blanks is the story of a prepubescent girl who is mortgaged to a moneylender for six months. Kaniska deals with a boy with no hearing or sense of touch who is taken care of by a young, predatory babysitter. The fact that these stories are grim is not important in itself, but because there is little in these stories besides the details, one is left wondering what the point is, if there is one at all.
This is an ambitious collection that attempts to tell neglected but significant tales. Who were the characters in the book while they lived? Did they know that they would die or that someone close to them would? How do the people they leave behind cope? These are some of the questions the book poses. The problem is that these questions are explored over and over in the book with little reinvention. After a few stories, there are no new sentiments or surprises for the reader. Though the issues are real, the stories fail to penetrate their own depth.
[Speaking Tiger Books; ISBN 9789385755705]