As a painter, he moved decades ago from his early figurative phase to his non-figurative maturity. As a modernist, he has achieved a variety of effects ranging from the visually ravishing to the metaphysically haunting. As a writer, however, he has been rather non-adventurous in style and form. In his writing, Kumar has stuck to a style shorn of similes, metaphors, adjectives, wit and rhythm. He has continued to rely on worn-out realistic conventions—some simplistic social background, some unspectacular description, some casual characterisation, laconic dialogue. And yet, in his successful stories such as The Sailor, The Steamer, The Sea, Termites, The Sound of Crickets, he achieves a power that is unmistakable. He has not moved beyond his early preoccupations with sadness, loneliness, reticence, alienation and exile but he comes across as a writer with a range of experience and insight. Where then, one exclaims in bafflement, is the source of his unmistakable magic as a short story writer? Is it in his deliberate asceticism as a stylist? Is it in the cumulative effect of his seemingly dull details? Is it in the authenticity of his feelings? His silences? Or in all these? I’ve not been able to come up with an answer even though I have been, for almost 50 years, an admirer of both his fiction and his painting.
The twelve stories in this glorious collection brings me face to face once again with this baffling question. I can’t come up with a satisfactory answer; let me hope that some other keener reader will. I remain content with the profound pleasure of reading this beautiful book.