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Underdog resilience

The downtrodden, destitute and the diseased are the lead protagonists in this collection of short stories

By Subhojit Goswami
Last Updated: Monday 31 July 2017
One Thousand Days in a Refrigerator <br>
Manoj Kumar Panda <br>
Speaking Tiger | 142 pages | Rs 269

We may succumb to forces stronger than us; we may not survive nature's onslaught or the tyranny of traditions, but resilience is what makes us battle-ready. That’s the message of Manoj Kumar Panda’s One Thousand Days in a Refrigerator, an anthology of short stories.

His stories are an attack on Brahmanism, caste supremacy, forced ostracisation of certain communities and bigotry of a class-conscious society. At the same time, they hold a mirror to the helplessness of the people who experience extreme weather events. The lead characters in his stories are the downtrodden, the destitute, the diseased and those who are debilitated by nature's wrath.

In all of these stories, the author plays the role of an onlooker, documenting layered victimisation of humankind through lucid prose. While the resilience of “brick-hard” people is the leitmotif, the prose is geared to junk incredulous beliefs. His stories ask many pertinent questions: does a cow retain its sanctity upon its death? Can priests decide who has transgressed the codes of morality? Is it ethical to keep someone hanging hopelessly between life and death by artificial means?

Illustration: Tarique Aziz

It is probably a deliberate act on the author's part to name his characters after mythical and Vedic figures and make them go through earthly agonies. Mahadev, in the story Fragments, is beaten to pulp by police for allegedly sexually abusing a woman.

Janardan, in A letter from Mesopotamia, is looked down upon by his Brahmin peers for consuming meat. Like sage Nachiketa in the Upanishads, his namesake in the story Sentenced to a Honeymoon, rejects a life that is ephemeral and his actions remain unperceived by the people around him. Though the characters in the stories have a slim chance to live in dignity, they take admonishments in their stride and laugh at everything that exposes their vulnerability. These soulful people are free of artifice.


William M. Alley and Rosemarie Alley


Groundwater DEPLETION has spread across the world. Drawing on examples from around the world, including case studies in the United States, Canada, Australia, India and Sub-Saharan Africa, the authors examine groundwater from key scientific and socioeconomic perspectives. While addressing the serious nature of groundwater problems, the book includes stories of people who are making a difference in protecting this critical resource.

Leigh Raymond

THE MIT PRESS | 256 PAGES | US $33.84

in 2008, 10 states in the US launched an emissions trading programme to force polluters to pay the public for their emissions. They auctioned emission allowances and raised more than US $2.2 billion to fund public programmes. The book analyses the process of policy change.

This story was first published in the April 16-30, 2017 issue of Down To Earth magazine. 

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