Abha Iyengar reviews Jyothi Vinod’s story ‘The Monotony of Hornbills’ published in DNA’s Sunday supplement- Just Before Monday.
My first brush with Jyothi Vinod’s writing happened when I co-edited ‘The Other’, an anthology of 33 writers writing on the same theme, and selected for it her story titled, ‘The Benefits of Forced Laughter’, a story that brought tears to my eyes. It is no wonder then that ‘The Monotony of Hornbills’, another of her stories, won the 1st runner up prize in the 2017 DNA-Out of Print short story contest.
When I read this story, I was once again struck by the same quality in her writing, of a slow unveiling of sadness, and through it an eventual expression of the self through an outburst or a realization and separation from the cause of the pain. For there is pain that forms the underskin of the stories, and it is revealed layer by layer to the reader, who eventually experiences the very things the protagonist does, and in this lies the power of her words. They move you slowly through a quiet development of the issue, and then explode in your face so that you don’t have the time to avert your face and say, ‘This does not happen’. For it does, all the time, and Jyothi Vinod makes us face the truth, whether it be forced laughter or the monotony of monogamy.
‘The Monotony of Hornbills’, opens with comments on a thin white tent and it is only later one realizes that the woman is talking about watching milk coming to boil. Her thoughts wander, resulting in the overflow of burnt milk, and we see her as she goes to ‘… snatch a kitchen towel, and a whole bunch of them tumble out of the drawer.’ She says, ‘I staunch the milk dripping off the counter, and the tongs drop on my foot’, (there is no saving a situation that has come to boil, in other words) while the angry, over-critical husband watches, comments and leaves, all dressed up for his Sunday outing.
She has been relegated to making coffee and ‘doing her duty’ much like the female Hornbill. Her passion of bird watching has been taken over and publicized by her husband Shekar, so she has stopped taking these walks with him and only does one ‘secret’ walk on her own. Meanwhile he takes young, interested couples on Sundays for birdwatching on the paths she had once in all innocence shared with him. This sharing was done in the hope that they were ‘rebuilding bridges’.
Shekar is a demanding husband, wanting things just so, and she complies. His weakness for other women is revealed in indirect ways. He is forced to resign from his job as a teacher of Physics due to complaints from his girl students about him. She resigns too from her teaching of Chemistry, although she loves her work, and they leave that city to move to Mysore. Here, he takes two binoculars on his Sunday walks, where one is for Divya, a neighbour, and she has ‘no idea Shekar takes them for her’, till Divya thanks her.
Is this degree of compliance and naiveté on her part due to disinterest, born out of the monotony of being married for over 25 years? She says, ‘I’ve grown dafter with age: I envy the female hornbill imprisoned in the cavity of the gulmohar tree with her chicks, secure in the knowledge her mate will be back.’ And when Shekar stumbles upon her secret path, even as she sidles to hide behind the tree that houses the Hornbills, he says to his fellow birdwatchers, ‘It’s our lucky day. We can see the monogamy, sorry, the monotony of hornbills.’ Though this statement is met with loud guffaws, it is indeed the reality of this story.
In the beginning of the story, she says, ‘It’s incredible how I’ve gone about my life accumulating questions,’ and towards the end we find her acknowledging, ‘It’s time to face my answers.’
Jyothi Vinod writes this story in first person, enabling the reader to immediately relate with the protagonist. Her writing moves smoothly and with ease to tell us a great deal and tap into our emotions within the limitations set by the short story. She also brings to this story her knowledge and love of birds to reveal how the trappings of a monogamous marriage finds its counterpart in the ‘monotony of Hornbills’.
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About the reviewer: Abha Iyengar is an award winning, internationally published poet, author, essayist and a British Council certified creative writing mentor. She has a special fascination for reading and writing the short story and flash fiction. She has five published books to her credit and has recently co-edited an anthology, The Other.
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Reviews of short stories can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org
(The story should be published in English in any online journal. Pick one or more short story. The story should be available online and published between 2012-2018. Preferably Asian journal/ writer. Within 800 words.)