- Vikram, the Vampire, and the Story
The future of the short story is dark because there are fewer and fewer trees in the world, and more and more people. In a world containing only people, there is room for journalism to grow, but not for poems and stories. Journalism and oratory are merely the human world’s means of expression. However, poems and stories are expressions that are born from the interaction of the human and the non-human worlds. Story was born in a time when there were more trees on this Earth, and fewer humans. When night fell, there was a handful of men and women around a fire, and beyond them only darkness and more darkness—and trees and more trees.
Certain parts of the natural world can be replaced by others. Forest can be replaced by desert, and desert by high mountains or by the shore of the noisy sea. But sky-high buildings cannot replace sky-high mountains or tall forest trees. Meditation—the training of the imagination and creative action—can live in the shade of banyans, in mountain caves, in the expanses of the desert. But nothing can live within the walls of factories.
Today, there is no escaping sky-high buildings, noisy factories, and row upon row of houses and apartments. The “mass man” that Jose Ortega y Gasset characterised forty years ago in the context of twentieth-century Europe is now, with the rise of industrial development, spreading in our South Asian cities also. Traffic is so great that trees are continually being cut down and roads expanded. Buses are full of people, and motorcycles and taxis are so loud that normal speech is inaudible. But even so, there are not enough vehicles to carry everyone.
The problem with housing is the same. There are many houses, but more people who need them, even though new residential areas are constantly being developed. Where yesterday there was a forest, today there is a forest of houses and apartments. And yet there are not enough. An empty house is a relic of the past. Houses that remained empty for years—so that even their locks grew rusty—no longer exist. Such mysterious houses nourished the imagination and gave birth to stories.
Nurturing the imagination was partly the responsibility of vacant, mysterious houses. Dense old trees, birds, and other animals were also responsible. All these were active in the life of the society. Love of humanity, no doubt—but love of humanity was not the only concern of Tulsi, Kabir, and Nasir Kazmi. Their poetry also arose from the mysterious relationship between the human and the non-human, which was the very foundation of the flourishing societies of those days. [End Page 241]
But now, with our sky-high buildings, noisy factories, and massive machines, we are entering a new age of barbarism. Thanks to this barbarism, which only seems to be civilisation, the breadth of our experience is shrinking while the metropolis of facts and information is spreading. Man’s relationship with the non-human world is breaking down, and we are becoming industrialised creatures.
Today the classic collection Twenty-Five Tales of a Vampire could not be written. Why not? The Vampire says to King Vikram, “It’s good to pass the time in talking of good things while travelling. So, Raja, listen to the stories I’ll tell you. But if you speak on our journey, I’ll go back to where you found me and you’ll have to start all over.” These days, we speak a great deal. Speeches, newspaper statements, conferences, discussions—our thoroughfares are full of noise. While travelling on them, conversations between a human—such as King Vikram—and a non-human are no longer possible. In the midst of constant noise, we have become hard of hearing. There are some voices that we can no longer even hear.
When Raja Vikramajit spoke on the journey and the Vampire went back and hung upside down in his tree, social realism replaced storytelling. Social reform, political conditions, revolution, ideologies—these are Raja Vikram creations; or, in the words of...