Imagine a scenario where we could get into the minds of creative people. The result could be frightening, if not fascinating. That’s what we experience when we read a collection of short stories written by artist Gopikrishna. Self-published under the title, ‘Rahasyangalude Pusthakam,’ (The Book of Secrets), these stories serve us with a terrific -- and terrifying -- reading experience, which eventually takes us to a state of sublime revelation that Gopikrishna is a representative of our collective self itself. Creative people are up-normal people (not abnormal people) because they gain the freedom to reveal the private hells and dungeons before a discerning public -- both in plain and metaphoric terms. Gopikrishna, as his stories tell us, is an up-normal artist as well as a meta-normal one; he transcends all the normative experiences to a heaven of fear and anxieties.
Gopikrishna, who has been painting for over three decades, perhaps doesn’t come across as a painter of our times. While many a painter in our times has become a recluse in remote places, Gopikrishna, based in Thiruvananthapuram, lives neither reclusively nor remotely. Yet, his works don’t seem to belong to our times. A cursory look at his paintings would make one startle. There are fables that could be deciphered only with the help of the artist himself. Fabulous creatures with their multi-heads and mutated bodies are in a constant revelry of auto-cannibalization. In landscapes that remind viewers of pre-historic times when Dinosaurs ruled the earth, mutated human figures move around. Winged creatures make ominous entries; saint-like figures control Medusa-headed animals and show them to the land of peace.
If those are the paintings, can Gopikrishna’s stories be different? “They can’t be,” he says. “They can’t be different because these stories are written by the same person who has painted these paintings. I’ve written these stories with the same creative urge; only the medium is different.”
There is an autobiographical streak in all his works. Like the stories of Kafka where ‘K’ representing himself is the protagonist, in these stories there are several protagonists whose names are derivatives of the author’s name: Gopan, Gopakumaran, Gopikrishnan and so on. These characters find themselves in the most unnatural of spots and confront the vilest of people and creatures that strip them of their self-respect and dignity. Gopikrishna tells these stories with so much ease and dispassion that they put a blade of ice through the reader’s spine. Each page makes us believe that the fantastic incidents and events could happen to any of us at any given time. What makes the stories of Gopikrishna different from most of the other contemporary writings in Malayalam is the erasure of the thin line between probability and improbability.
Take the example of ‘Dussakunamaay Avan Vannu’ (He came like a bad omen). A man goes to an office to push one of his files. The moment he gets out of his home, he meets a guy who is hated for being an ill omen. The story deals with the horrendous experiences that the protagonist has to face that day. By the time he comes back to his village, he is all bruised and swollen by the attack of a pair of beggars suffering from blindness and leprosy. The leper even forces him to eat food mixed with the maggots falling from his wounds. In the story titled ‘Puli’ (Leopard), Gopikrishna writes about a family of father and two sons. One day, one of the sons, who is also the narrator of the story, sees a leopard and its cubs at his backyard. In the story titled ‘Naya’ (Dog), the protagonist turns into a dog.
Gopikrishna started writing these stories when he was a student at the College of Fine Arts in Thiruvananthapuram in early 1980s. When he wrote them he was translating ‘real’ experience into words. “I had seen the world like that, and I had been in a state of constant intoxication with fear,” Gopikrishna says.
The narrative structure and style of these stories are superb. When Gopikrishna was writing these stories, Ben Okri had not written his ‘Famished Road’ (1991) and ‘Astonishing the Gods’ (1995). If I say Gopikrishna’s narratives make Okri’s narratives go pale, it’s not an exaggeration. Had Gopikrishna written these stories in English and a mainstream publisher launched the collection, it would’ve been hailed as an astonishing collection of short stories by an original writer from India. Gopikrishna published the book himself because he just wanted to give it to a few friends. Good books always don’t find publishers, while mediocre ones fill the shelves of the publishing houses. Gopikrishna’s ‘Book of Secretes’ is a world class book, and I hope our mainstream publishers would pick it. And if possible, there should be an English translation so that the world could also taste the story telling genius of an excellent painter of our times.
Photo credit: Foter.com