Genre: Poetry/Short fiction
Book type: Paperback and Hardcover
This collection of short stories and poems penned by Jani Viswanath is beautiful, heart-touching, and good-hearted. ‘Echoes of Light’ has seven poems and seven short stories. The poems, “Requiem” and “Void”, were the most outstanding, especially “Requiem” with its shockingly unexpected ending.
The short stories are also interesting to read, with Viswanath going in detail to sew together a tapestry of memories (both painful and beautiful), nature imagery and village life. In all this, and the messages for almost every story, what we get is a heart full of love, gratitude, and compassion.
For example, in “Kama-sudra”, Viswanath takes the time to map out the locations of a house in excruciating detail to reflect the protagonist’s memory of her childhood home.
This book may not be everyone’s cup of tea though, especially those who like to see everything with a cynical lens. There’s an almost simplistic and idealistic form of childhood memories presented in stories such as “The Afghan Hawk”. The author bemoans the loss of innocence and fondly looks back at a supposed time when people did not run after materialism and wealth. This may come off as a bit naïve simplistic for readers who have faced painful and difficult childhoods and would never want to go back to such a time. There is almost a rose-tinted look back at childhood in the picnic scenes where a nuclear family sits down at a pretty spot close to untouched nature. The author paints a portrait of a family consisting of a hardworking husband, a gentle and nurturing mother and two playfully curious children.
Certain poems in the collection are nature-related, as the poet writes of rivers, winds, trees, the moon, the Sun, stones, and flowers. There are hints of Dickinson, Tennyson, Rosetti and a thousand others in these pages. But nature is timeless, and so are poems about it. In this way, Viswanath’s poems are a welcome addition to nature poetry.
Ultimately, the book’s best moments are in the stories which don’t aim for the universal, but the specific. The poem “Requiem” is one example.
In a world that is increasingly damaged and divided, authors like Viswanath and books like ‘Echoes of Light’ are needed to remind one of how fleeting and fragile life is and what one should truly prioritize. Some may find it as “naïve” and others would not. But it will surely open our eyes to how far we, as a collective, have strayed, if nothing else.
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