What does Enuma Elis, a seventh century BCE Babylonian creation myth, and Pinocchio, a twentieth-century animated fantasy film, have in common? The blatantly absurd plot that mocks the post-modernist empiricists in every which way. Yet, both stories manage to slip through the hoops of rationality to seduce millions of entranced spectators into museums and theatres to be enraptured by low-resolution animations and arcane characterisations, which despite translation remain no less senseless.
It is this erratic unpredictability and thrashing chaos that makes great stories great. So much so that we are willing to let loose our grasp of logic and not question how, in Pinocchio, a marionette transforms into a boy, or how, in Enuma Elish, Marduk, The Patron God of Babylon, creates the world out of the body of his slain mother.
Engrossed in these stories, we find ourselves awestruck by the profound character transformations. It is the articulate knowledge embedded in inarticulate knowledge that forms the domain of great literature, myths, drama, film and music. Predicated on the same intention of distilling human experience into figments of irrational fiction, Akif Rashid’s short anthology Encounters tosses a mish-mash of characters, metaphors, personification and symbolism into stories that extract meaning from meaningless tales.
In his debut collection of short stories Encounters, Rashid moulds memories into characters, who with changing hearts and eyes, and mouths and minds, orient themselves in haphazard plots to form a metanarrative of the evolution of self (or individuality). In the first story, ‘Come Home Tonight’ Rashid’s narration mimics early childhood imagination in its relentless proclivity for wild fiction where beasts, birds and bewitching lovers thrust the protagonist into the turmoil of life. But, as the book progresses, vivacious emotions ensue tamer storylines. Thus, Rashid follows the phases of life and its accompanying degrees of chaos not only in content but also in his style of writing.
The anthology begins with the unabashed and loud enthusiasm for living life that parallels the spirit of adventure that Pinocchio embodied when he first ventured beyond the boundaries of his familial home. Much like Pinocchio, the protagonist, Huston, is pulled hither and fro by external forces (biological and cultural) that try to transform him by exposing him to more and more of the world. It is this interplay between that quasi-animated protagonist and the external forces, represented by preying beasts, wild lovers and societal restraints that inspire a capacity for autonomy. Rashid, further, accentuates this transformation by altering the structure of his storytelling, which wanes from an incoherent Joyce-like ‘stream of consciousness’ to a reserved second person, and a mature third-person narration.
The hero’s descent to the underworld becomes a recurring theme in Encounters played out sometimes by passionate youths, who display a tendency to run from home and let the undercurrents of instinct sweep them away, and other times by culturally constrained sons whose identities evaporate at the touch of wild women.
Similar to ancient parables and contemporary fiction, Rashid nudges his Pinocchio characters, on more than one occasion, into the belly of the beast so that they may find their Geppetto fathers. This tension between chaos and order finds a backdrop sometimes in rickety bars, in ‘Carpe DNN’, and other times in front of vicars rehearsing monologues, in ‘Between Cups of Tea’. From the lens of depth psychology, this struggle illustrates man’s battle with nature and society so that he may establish his place. But whether men emerge as triumphant heirs or depersonalised drunks, it is in these random encounters that they find their random identities.
Certainly, the most interesting part of the book is the generous wisdom that it imparts especially through intimate dialogue between its male and female characters. Sounds and colours fold onto each other in unanticipated ways, wrapping within desperate, heart-wrenching battles of self against itself. In ‘The Three Tenants,’ Rashid chains the reader to the protagonist, Henry, in his relationship with three women Luna, Massah, Alese in discrete time. The reader truly feels the raw ache of being torn open, ripped apart, and sown back together from one heartbreak to the next. But it is to the collapse of the relationships that resonate with the reader but the collapse of the self and the thug that continues to reverberate forever after.
Alas, all love, loneliness, solitude burns into loss as Henry squeals, “Finding time and again the unquenchable yearning to seek out what belongs to another, what has never belonged to the self, and what shall never belong in these tired arms.” With undertones of Jungian psychology shinning through, these encounters elaborate the exhausting journey of hauling the contents of the unconscious soul into the conscious mind for the differentiation of identity.
By letting instances of wallowing loneliness pour into an onslaught of love, Rashid seeks to communicate that the creation of self is not something that can be articulated by a table of rules. It is cruel and complicated as is life.
In his last short-story ‘Entre Chien Et Loup’ employing references of death and funeral of a beloved, Rashid stitches his contemporary anthology to the ancient Mesopotamian myth of Enuma Elis where Marduk, the ruler of Gods, slaughters Tiamat, the Primordial Mother, and with her fragmented carcass creates the world. Through beautiful and beastly stories, Rashid makes a point that for the self to reach apotheosis and create new order the primal supra-structure has to die.
Encounters (short stories)
Author: Akif Rashid
Publisher: Kitab Nagar