Book: Day’s End Stories: Life After Sundown In Small-Town India
Edited by: Subuhi Jiwani
Price: Rs. 350
As a young girl growing up in a small town, nights were mystical, mysterious creatures which needed to be negotiated only through sleep. A martinet of a grandfather enforced the lights out rule very strictly. By 8.30 pm, I was expected to be in bed, by 9 pm everyone was sleep.
Only much later, having moved to a big town college-and-hostel, I learnt how to own the night, with its promise of illicit reefers and loud Pink Floyd and jumping curfew for forbidden dates. My early years as a rookie journalist led to my living on my own, and realising how 2 am in the newsroom could be a most liberating time, where friendship and passion could, and often did, blossom.
I’ve always wondered whether my fascination with the night is universal, or do I just have a thing for this diurnal switch because I’m one of those, due to early conditioning, who inhabit the day more fully. Which is why I leapt at Day’s End Stories, edited by Subuhi Jiwani, tagged ‘life after sundown in small town India’, hoping it would provide some insight on what freedom at night really means.
Of course it is a question I see through the prism of gender and class: if I were not able to sleep comfortably at night and were forced into something terrible to be able to put food on the table, I would have very different expectations from the night. Do all girls, and later women, experience the night in a similar manner wherever in the world they happen to be? And do all boys who turn into men, presumably, do the same?
The bunch of stories in the slim collection address the questions, not all of them, and not all together, that come tumbling out of this day-night divide. The result is uneven — not all the pieces spoke to me — but it is very interesting. Because it positions the writers, most of them male, educated, and English speaking (only three stories are by women), as people who can afford to be out at night because they wish to, not because they need to. And that they have had the luxury to look at their small-town nights with hindsight and perspective because they’ve had the chance to experience nights, and nightlife, in the big city.
Amitava Kumar talks of Bettiah in Bihar and how its nights are constantly bathed in darkness because of the long power-cuts. Tabish Khair makes the profound observation that small towns can be cosmopolitan in their own way. Vinod K Jose recalls the nights in Mananthavady (Kerala) which changed his life because that’s where he got to see the films of “Akio Kussova” (Akira Kurosawa).
Siliguri-based Sumana Roy spends nights with a feisty group of women, “carriers” of contraband goods on their persons, as they criss-cross the Indo-Nepal border. The lesser-known tracks of Bikaner are outlined by Akshay Pathak who talks of its continued…