Review: Loyal Stalkers by Chhimi Tenduf-La | books$reviews | Hindustan Times
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Review: Loyal Stalkers by Chhimi Tenduf-La

Chhimi Tenduf-La skillfully weaves together a set of short stories to create a plot-pattern that makes Loyal Stalkers a complete novel

books Updated: Dec 15, 2017 16:48 IST
Smita Agarwal
A vendor sells Sri Lankan national flags at a roadside stall in Colombo.
A vendor sells Sri Lankan national flags at a roadside stall in Colombo.(Ishara S Kodikara/AFP)

This is an enjoyable and easy-to-read book. The language flows, the stories keep you engaged and entertained. It is precisely because of this ease of reading that it remains with you. The author does not go running after effects that will nail him a Booker or a Nobel but that does not mean no creativity of craft is involved. And therein lies the rub for the reader who is left wondering if this is a collection of short stories or a novel? Each chapter is a self-contained short story. If you choose not to read what has come before or after it will not affect your understanding of that particular chapter, yet, like a skilled weaver, Tenduf-La manipulates characters to create a plot-pattern that ties up loose ends and makes Loyal Stalkers one complete novel.

The author introduction tells us Tenduf-La has children of his own and manages an international school. It seems to me that it is this experience that animates the child characters – their innocence and aspirations continually crushed by the cruel adult world. More often than not, one is reminded of Dickens and Premchand. The overarching hypocrisy and hostility of the adult world towards children and young people is agonizingly etched out in the stories. More than the Mother, it is with “thathi” or the Father that the children wish to have a meaningful relationship. “Thathi” is an oft repeated word in the stories: an ache, a void that the innocent child or young adult strives to deal with.

… beneath a bo-tree/… The joys of childhood, friendships of our youth/ravaged by pieties and politics/…Sri Lanka burns alive.

said Yasmine Gooneratne in 1983. However, the reader is relieved that Loyal Stalkers is not yet another piece of writing obsessing over the LTTE and the genocide of the Sri Lankan civil war. Although the plot is spawned by the reference to July 1983 and riots and curfew in Colombo; although, like great epics, it is the brutal defilement of a female that sets the narration in motion, Sri Lanka, in this book, has moved on. Women are riding motorbikes and going to the gym. Also, the all pervading sadness of human existence is countered by an impeccable sense of humour, piquant and most well timed. Consider:

Read more: Colombo: A permanent home

It is the first time I have seen you since you were taken from me. You are a grown man. A handsome man. You take my hands and kiss my cheeks, and in return, I send you a night breeze.

where, night breeze is a euphemism for breaking wind, a medical condition the seventeen-year-old is afflicted with because some muscles in her backside ruptured during the birth of her hatechild “which was not easy”.

Chhimi Tenduf-La (Courtesy the publisher)

A fake godman and his blind followers, a single mom and her ardent admirer, a child with special needs, a dog thrown off a building, cricket and its callous coaches, gym instructors, a female homicide, a canny tuktuk driver, a lowly security guard who lets his son believe he is a police inspector, Pasindu Amarasinghe from a working class background with an Eliza Doolittle mother, who nevertheless matures into a young adult who is courageous enough to embrace his sexuality and acknowledge he is gay, these are the people who inhabit the world of these stories that juxtaposes the heart rending and the life affirming. The eponymous tale, Loyal Stalkers, is a masterly evocation of all that is twisted, ominous and terrifying also being the fountainhead of tenderness and love! There’s no point in giving much away. Go ahead and read this book.

Smita Agarwal is a poet. She teaches at Allahabad University