MB Recommends: ‘I Am An Executioner’

April 30, 2012 7:08 am by

In Rajesh Parameswaran’s universe, there is a language called Engalaphant, which is “the strange tongue native to all places of elephant-human contact”. There, people in photographs talk, and love stories often end in heartbreak, whether the heart is a man’s or a tiger’s. There are countries with powerful secret police, mysterious states in which there is only one executioner. Some of the people and places in Parameswaran’s stories may seem familiar; others are quite obviously figments of an imagination that freewheels in style.

Parameswaran’s book of nine short stories I Am An Executioner—Love Stories is a curious collection of worlds and characters. Each story is distinct and intricately-crafted, with characters that are eccentric, weird and yet entirely credible. There’s a matter-of-fact quality to the way in which they deal with their lot, strange and cruel as it may be. An executioner who speaks like an imaginative child and who doesn’t bat an eyelid when he has to kill a little girl following a primitive, brutal method of execution; a wife who calmly tells her American neighbour that her husband is doing yoga when actually he is stiffening with rigor mortis; a man who decides to impersonate being a doctor when he’s firedthere’s a glint of insanity in Parameswaran’s creations and it makes them all the more compelling.

They come to life with his storytelling, which is a wonderfully balanced potpourri of morbidity, humour and sensitivity. There are no loose ends, no repeated voices. It’s almost as though Parameswaran, who was born in India but raised in America since he was a baby, set himself a new challenge with each story, pushing himself to draw upon both his imagination and his experiences such as the holidays to India, which were a regular feature of his life for years.

His characters are polar opposites of the delicately melancholic immigrants that we’ve glimpsed in the writing of authors like, for example, Jhumpa Lahiri, and infuse his storytelling with wit, which is unusual for Indian and diasporic Indian writing in English. I Am An Executioner is thus a very impressive debut. What’s even better news is that Parameswaran is reportedly working on his first novel. All those who had resigned themselves to fictional Indian immigrants being predictable, boring and flat, pour yourselves a drink and raise a toast to Parameswaran. Desis haven’t been this much fun in the pages of a book in years.

I Am An Executioner—Love Stories by Rajesh Parameswaran, Knopf, Rs1,034. Buy it from Flipkart.com.

Deepanjana Pal is a journalist and the author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma. She is currently a consulting copy editor at Elle magazine.