Novella ‘A Wayside Story’ by Rupanjali Baruah Book Review by Mini Gill

Human race is moving at a fast speed to build New World, different from which it was born into. Man’s increasingly growing mastery over the physical world and its material resource is a story of progress, which is taking him to the land of concrete. Man has made concrete roads/paths which are taking him to the world of supreme architecture. But these roads, paths and ways have so many stories associated with them.

Rupanjali Baruah in her novella “A Way side Story” is telling a tale of two people who are trying to establish a relationship. The story is set in Dubai. The truth of one generation can be different from the truth of another generation. But are we heading towards a world which is possibly a world of lies? Another definition of truth away from nature growing in the lap of materialism is merging with a lie. Consequences of change falls upon human face itself.  

‘A Wayside Story’ is a story of two persons Minnie and Siddhartha: They are different people who belong to two different worlds. Minnie perceives it as a true and lasting relationship that should be forever. She has stolen precious time to be away in another land to be with Siddhartha. But ‘time like money slips through her fingers very quickly’. Though she wishes to move ahead of everything with which she was born and nurtured. However it turns out to be a going away from home. Her world would no longer appear like home but only the epitome of home.

The two protagonists in the story belong to two opposite worlds: Minnie’s belongs to the world of nature and instincts while Siddhartha inhabits an exclusive world of matter and materialism. How can the two mingle with the other, how can truth mingle with a lie? Minnie leaves behind everything to live with him. She is a married woman and Siddhartha also has a family. She rebels against the age old system of discipline to be like a free soul with the man of her dreams. She wants to break the natural flow of life, as she feels -  ‘The past is easily getting mixed up with the present and she cannot quite say where she wants to belong’.  She does not want to remember what she has left behind. But this cannot happen. Past is within, one cannot live without a trace of it.

She in her effort to know more and more of Siddhartha loses her own sense of reckoning and wonders where or how she should belong to him. This feeling drags her nowhere. The world of nature cannot be disassociated howsoever glamorous that heap of concrete may seem to be.

“Two windows are inadvertently sealed together into one, overlooking some four or five grand looking structures, and in front of the frontispiece not a single tree to see. This is really sad” - Minnie thus muses and pushes herself towards an illusion; she tries not to think too much, she has so much to see and discover in Siddhartha and that tree could wait. Her greatest illusion is that she can handle or control each and everything.

When we read further into the events inside the story, a strange realization awaits us too as Minnie sees that “everything is conditioned in Dubai: air inside rooms, the parks with artificial plants ---------- only slow silent humming like someone is breaking a big stone grinding it to mere dust’. Each imagery represents something that is cold, impersonal, without any feeling. Dubai is like a man made machine gulping all human touches ------ “the neon lit streets do not reflect moon beams on the dry asphalt”.  

Everything contradicts Minnie’s past and her present, her emotion and intellect, just as nature and matter co-ordinate with the rhythm of now and then in the story. Every time Minnie is thinking of her love for Siddhartha, astonishingly we see that they are sharing nothing much with each other. Siddhartha wants her body and her money and every time she is giving him everything of whatever she has. At the same time, she does it rather helplessly because slowly she realizes that she can win his love though every other day she is losing her hope - “The future is one long road going in circles never meeting at a point and Siddhartha is not within the circumference of that circle”. 

She feels that she is losing herself that she is lost in emptiness. She compares herself to ‘Perdita,’ a Shakespearean character: Perdita’s father disowns her thinking that she is not his daughter. Minnie thinks she has been disowned by her own land, her home. She is like Tagore’s Bimala too who is torn between two persons. Minnie is also divided caught in between her past and present. The more she escapes into her past, the more she finds herself trapped into it. She tries to surrender to Siddhartha, she has been on this journey to Dubai only to be with him. Like Santiago of ‘Old Man and Sea’, she is full of dread of not being able to find anything at the end of her journey. It is her illusion that she can buy love. With the passing of time, she realizes that it is not possible to detach herself from the past though she wants always to be with Siddhartha but to her “always is rather a very short word”. She undertakes a make belief dialogue with Siddhartha where she asks him a question and then answers herself on his behalf but reaches nowhere. She ends up asking the last question “but how would you pay me back with these empty hands?” She feels that “she has been reduced to a new fetus as small as coffee bean.” She is trapped in her own nightmares. And sadly she has no one to turn to. The only way out is to go back to her origins. She is guilty now. Past and present cannot be separated. In one of her nightmares, she meets a blacksmith who is mending an old pair of shoes: She realizes that these shoes are her father’s last pair. Her dilemma is to get back to those shoes but is unable to do so.

As far as Siddhartha is concerned, he enjoys all material worth with Minnie’s money. He is lost in a world that is all matter and nothing else. He is just running fast but where does he reach? Nowhere. Minnie decides to go back. As Horace had observed, “though you drive away nature with pitch fork, she always returns.’

“Minnie feels like she is standing on one side of a turbulent river waiting to steer across to the quiet certainty on the other side.” Gap between this now and that then, is very hard to traverse. While going back, she remembers her son imagining that he would be waiting at the airport to receive her. But nobody is there. On her way back to home she meets with an accident. There is a bomb blast. Her inner pain is more terrible than the pain given by that blast. Siddhartha is also back but he never calls up Minnie again. Nature and matter cannot merge. Water and oil cannot come together.  Natural flow of time and cacophony of matter cannot be tuned together into a song.

Siddhartha is compared to Lazarus to be resurrected, But when? Wait is still a long one. Her wait is endless. When she detaches herself from nature she in turn dissociates herself from her own kind, likewise Minnie is trapped in the grip of her own alienations. She is alone. Siddhartha does not believe in a long lasting relationship. Cicero too had remarked that ‘those things are better which are perfected by nature than those which are finished by art.’ To conclude it can be said that moribund city life is not a way to progress, it becomes a ‘wayside story’. The novella has a number of beautiful, memorable lines of profound observations which I would like to conclude with a few quotes -

    • ? Virtue does not lie in a well-dressed man who wears his shirt sleeves never rolled up for a precise effect.
    • ? To err is easy but to keep far away from the habit of erring is truly a difficult thing.