A few thoughts on Masti: Fictions
I’ve had this book on my shelf for a long time, always meaning to read it but never quite getting around to it. But after my previous attempt at a British book that I couldn’t finish, I was looking for something similar in flavour to R K Narayan. Masti was the choice.
Yet Masti isn’t quite RKN. For one, he’s much more comfortable with historical/religious settings. He’s focused on the history of Karnataka. And he takes pains to manage the narrative distance from his characters, often by couching the main story in a wrapper.
This book is a collection of his popular short stories, translated into English and published by the ever-reliable Katha. It serves as a Masti Reader, introducing the writer and his life and philosphy along with the work itself. And I for one came away impressed.
The stories vary from the true-crime genre (but told in a very human way), to tales modelled on Puranic tales. In none of them is Masti condescending to us or to his characters. For example in the first one, the narrator decides to arrange a match between a young man who doesn’t want to marry, and a young girl. Your typical chick-lit-type writer would have spent chapters upon chapters explaining how the relationship formed, how it blossomed, what impediments inevitably came in their way and so on. But Masti is extremely focused - the story goes exactly up to the point where the young man’s resolve is broken and he begins to ask who that interesting girl is. The very next scene is set years after the marriage. You’re expected to understand that it all went off smoothly.
Much has been written about Masti’s spiritual faith in God and in order in the universe. It shows through in the stories. He treats devotion completely unironically, and several of his characters are genuinely holy men. This may be offputting to modern English readers, but to my mind it feels like a throwback to an older, simpler time. Nor is he advocating any sort of hate or exclusion in the name of religion.
I’m sure I have another of his books - a novel, Chikkaveera Rajendra, lying around. Maybe I’ll pick that up later this year. For the current volume, it gets a thumbs up.