‘The Rocks’ by O. V. Vijayan: Short Story Analysis
‘The Rocks’ is a postmodernist magical realism story about two warriors. They were fighting a battle at a certain point in an Armageddon. One warrior’s name is Mrganga, the young father, while the other warrior is the North-East Indian or Chinese young mother called Tan Wan, of ‘the yellow skin’. They were the only two individuals left on planet Earth after an epic war. They are from opposing enemy camps but are ready to converse with each other. More than that, they deem themselves to be the post-apocalyptic Adam and Eve and ravish each other. However, they later commit suicide by burning themselves so that ‘their seed’ may not spring forth into the birth of more children to people this land, which is a sort of dystopian Indian land. It is a land where only space ships hover and large machines pace on the ground. All people on the earth and those who took part in the war have been burned and have turned into mystical yellow pollen.
As you can see, this is a story with a lot of depth and a little of everything. That is why O. V. Vijayan is considered an astounding and remarkable Indian writer of magical realism and dystopian fantasy fiction. There are numerous symbols in this story. The most prominent one is the underlying permanence of ‘rocks’. There is a passage of ages but the rocks never stir or move. They are aware of the passing of the ages but know that all will come to pass and has to come to pass. They watch civilization and time unfolding, mute and deep in reflective slumber. They almost seem to exist beyond time. This is highly indicative of theosophical, gnostic, and other esoteric literature, and scriptures, that claim that time is not the same in the metaphysical world.
Tan Wan meets Mrganga and they strip in front of each other. They find a common ground because both have lost their only child: Tan Wan has lost her son while Mrganga has lost his daughter. Everyone they have ever known has been smoldered into yellow pollen which flits about the place. Mrganga probably represents the colloquial South Indian while Tan Wan represents the North-East Indian tribal women. Taking note of the Naxalite or Marxist themes that hold great importance in most parts of North-East India and their disillusionment with the Indian government in general, it’s obvious that it was on these lines that the apocalyptic war was fought. This merged a bit with the ‘Adam and Eve’ story and the idea that North-East Indian women have been abused throughout the whole of time in the contemporary modernist period. That is why Tan Wan’s womb is ‘bleeding’; she is having a hemorrhage or a very heavy period which symbolizes the way tribals in the North-East of India are being abused sexually, economically, physically, psychologically, politically, socially, et al. Mrganga is a South Indian, most probably a Keralite who is a sympathizer of Marxist thought and the Leftist ideology concerning the Indian situation. This brings out the writer O. V. Vijayan’s affiliations in his whole intellectual lifetime to:
- Leftist thoughts
- Grandeur of divinity
- Love for culture
- Love for the esoteric side of life
Both Mrganga and Tan Wan have had children, but they have never ravished anyone sexually with so much abandon before. They have always had their many prejudices and stereotypes coming in the way of giving themselves completely to their passions. Mrganga has had always to please his father, snake god rocks, his South Indian lineage, et al. They look for a sacred spot without any contamination to have sex with each other. They find such a place in a grassy area where fresh flowers blossom. This is indicative of nature’s constant ability of rebirth and rebuilding itself even though it is time and again destroyed by man.
Mrganga’s childhood wish of ‘beholding the goddess’ is fulfilled in his ravishing of Tan Wan. She does not have the physicality of the sensual South Indian goddesses but she can satisfy her men. There is a lot of eroticism at play here but mirroring the male and female aspects of esoteric life. ‘Tan Wan’ by the by in Chinese means, to abandon oneself to an undisciplined life, or to shy away from self-discipline. This is what Mrganga and Tan Wan do. They sexually enjoy each other but Mrganga when asked whether he wants his seed to multiply replies that he wants to destroy his seed forever. This shows a thinking man’s disillusionment with nature and trying to rise above his lower self. ‘Nature’ represented by Tan Wan is ready to make Mrganga the new ‘Adam’ or father of nations, something of a Jewish-Abramic themed nature to the story which otherwise seems more in the realm of Indian scriptures and esoteric literature.
Tan Wan’s womb is ‘crying’ because her son had to live ‘in pain’. There is no greater woe for a mother to bear than to hear her child hurting and be unable to do anything to alleviate his pain. This is representative of all mothers who have been unable to give succor to their children because of the discrimination of the world based on sex, race, creed, caste, tribe, religion, ideology, etc. There is a mention in the short story of the name of Mrganga’s daughter. She was named Sita but people used to think that her name was ‘Gita’ and this used to make her very sorrowful. This is highly indicative of the two epics of Hindu literature ‘The Ramayana’ and ‘The Mahabharata’. Sita is the perfect female human goddess who is the very symbol of purity, beauty, fidelity, and love. The story of her virtues is found in the more popular epic ‘The Ramayana’. However, Gita forms a part of the long and highly odious war epic ‘The Mahabharata’. The Gita here is ‘The Bhagavat Gita’ which is the holy book of virtues of dharma and karma that Lord Krishna teaches the warrior Arjuna. This is narrated to Arjuna during the epic battle fought at ‘Kurukshetra’ which was a cosmic war between two sections of the same family of Arya sons. As you can see, Mrganga’s daughter preferred to be part of ‘The Ramayana’ than ‘The Mahabharata’ because she didn’t like war and blood brother feuds. This is in itself indicative of the silent but very much present civil war that Naxalites are waging with the state, blood brothers and sisters, who cannot see eye to eye, no matter which government comes to power.
There is no modesty in this story; war strips human beings of their dignity and modesty. The time of this story is vague. There is mention of computers and that machines and spacecraft hover over the place. But mention is also made that ‘poison was being churned’ in the seas, indicative of time even before the advent of civilization as we know it today. So, time is relative.
The story is focused on the permanency of the rocks. These rocks are the rocks of the earth that have been present even before time and which will last even beyond time. Mrganga and Tan Wan die because there is so much hate in man that nothing on this earth can change him, her, them. Might as well let the earth be dominated by machines, computers, and extraterrestrials; humans, however, have never been able to appreciate each other and so deserve not to be inhabiting the Earth. There is no redemption other than this fact that there was ‘pain and the pain ended’. This came to pass and the rocks were witnesses to this. Nothing more was wanted and needs to be wanted anymore because ‘wants’ are the reason for ‘pain’.
I loved this story and hope that my analysis was useful to you, my readers. I love O. V. Vijayan as a writer and will soon review more of his writings. By the by, this story was first penned in Malayalam and has been translated into English by the author himself.
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