To put a word so violent as Executioner next to a muzak-soundtrack-inducing subtitle like Love Stories, on a cover sporting a cutesy, heart-shaped tiger’s tail is exactly the sort of unsettling experience you can expect from Rajesh Parameswaran’s uniquely original debut story collection.
Animals take control of their narratives in a third of the nine stories here: in “The Infamous Bengal Ming,” a tiger newly smitten with his zookeeper unintentionally becomes a gory killer than a gentle lover; in “Elephants in Captivity (Part One),” a captive pachyderm’s hurriedly penned (trunked?) memoir is presented in translation from its original “Englaphant,” with more footnoted annotations than original text; in “On the Banks of Table River (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319),” the vicious mating rituals of oversized insects with each other, as well as humans, are revealed in churning detail.
While love among different species might be less than compatible, cavorting with one’s own kind is also no guarantee of ‘happily ever after.’ In the eponymous “I Am an Executioner,” the titular protagonist works desperately to start a relationship with his shocked new wife In “Demons,” a wife’s deathly wish towards her overbearing husband shockingly comes true – and then what is she to do? In “Narrative of an Agent 97-4702,” spouses can only share lives of half-truths and repeated deceptions.
When love morphs into power-play, tragedy inevitably ensues, from a failing computer salesman posing as a medical doctor in “The Strange Career of Dr. Raju Gopalarajan,” to a railway employee marrying up in “Four Rajeshes,” to a production designer’s desire to claim directorial control in “Bibhutibhushan Mallik’s Final Storyboard.”
Parameswaran’s imagination makes startling twists and manages to achieve unanticipated feats of bizarre fancy. A little shock to our jaded systems can only be a good thing – uncomfortable laughter, sudden squeamishness, unrestrained gasps all included!