I prefer not to reproduce lengthy excerpts on my blog, but when I read Anushka Jasraj‘s Radio Story in Granta, I found myself scribbling and tweeting lines as I went along. The entire story is elegantly rendered without losing the grittiness that is the ultimate residue of truth and human behavior. You can read it here in its entirety, but this one passage narrated by a secondary character named Sig, touched every nerve and fibre of my reading self.
Sometimes words are stronger than you are. I had to present it.
‘My favourite word is zaum. It was invented by Russian word scientists because they needed a word that had no meaning. I used to imagine them in a large laboratory surrounded by buckets of paper pulp and billions of little vials with words in different colours, and letters in every font lining the walls, and even the gates would be a grid of alphabets. I wanted to be a word scientist. I thought that maybe I could invent the perfect word and it would cure my muteness. Then I found out that the word scientists were just linguists, and most of them worked from home. So I decided to make radios instead.
Radios use frequencies that are below visible light. I imagine them as white rainbows travelling everywhere at the speed of sound. I like to think of my silence as white light, below the frequency of audible sound, but holding the entire spectrum of words. Except I can’t speak, even when it rains, so I write stories sometimes when there’s a thunderstorm. On sunny days I like to read under the mango tree in the backyard, or tinker with radio parts in my workshop.
People call me Sig – as in ‘Cygnus Olor’ the mute swan. There is nothing wrong with the swan’s vocal chords, it is even known to let out the occasional snort, but it remains silent for most of its life, and sings one achingly beautiful song right before it dies. I like to think of my stories as swan songs; if I can write something beautiful enough then maybe I’ll be able to find it in me to finally speak out loud.
I’m not the only one with problems though. My best friend Gieve has a hole in his heart. He says it’s only a physiological hole, and it hasn’t affected his ability to love. But people are scared of holes, and they’re always falling into them, while trying to learn more about them, like manholes or black holes.
I once asked him if he thought there was an entire galaxy residing in his heart, and he told me to stop taking things so seriously. Gieve learned sign language so that he could understand me. It was funny at first, when he kept getting the signs mixed up. He apologized to me for a week, and then I realized that he was trying to say he loved me.
It mystifies me when people don’t say things out loud, even when they have a voice. My parents never said things out loud. They always said what they didn’t mean, in strained voices, but if I had my voice I would say everything out loud. I would buy a dictionary and speak every word.
The girl I love is Maya, and she loves nobody, or so she claims. I wrote to her that I was nobody, and she just laughed. I think she’s scared that nobody will ever love her, because her nose is too big.
At night when we can’t sleep, we talk through our radios. I built her one that can only talk to my radio. She tells me little fibs in the guise of stories, and I tap out a response to her in Morse code, even though neither of us knows Morse code. It comforts her, the tap-tap- tap—tap-tap—tap.’
* Excerpt from Radio Story by Anushka Jasraj, winner of the Commonwealth ShortStory prize from the Asia region.