Published by Bengal Publications, Rafee Shaams’ Who even cares Who Cares? is a collection of short stories studded with magical occurrences. As is often seen in magic realist writing, there are ghosts, disappearances, miracles and extraordinary talents. Deeply affected by a changing social reality and its corruption, Shaams creates his own imagined spaces delving into the time and reality around him. But the novelty in Shaams’ spaces is his narrative pattern and use of diction, which he derives from the cyber world and many other sources of his time.
The first story, “Brothers in the City,” recounts the lives of two brothers – Rocket and Bullet – who live in a village but are banished by their father to move to the city. Jealousy creates a rift between the brothers, leading them to betrayal and death, but they are saved miraculously by the Dictator, a character that appears in other stories as well. The same Dictator in “Copsychus Saularis” recites his couplets and gifts people with cows, his favorite ploy for mythologizing his leadership and silencing the horrors perpetrated during his regime. This story revolves around the love story between Shahi and Sherry. The former is believed to be a djinn by Sherry’s parents, though Shahi himself desires to be an otherworldly creature to meet his beloved anytime he wishes. But it is not the desire of a ghostly existence or its duality that makes this story interesting; it is the writer’s ability to come up with something magical and embed it into his story like a reality, which is one of the salient facets of magic realist writing. Sherry pets a magpie robin that acts as an element of surprise in the story. Following other events in the plot, the couple is forced to get separated. Crestfallen, Shahi buys a magpie robin from the bazaar, a dear creature of his beloved, but soon it flies out of the cage. The following section describes how Sherry chases the bird: “He ran and ran. The bird almost seemed to be aware that it was being followed and flew in constant speed, changing directions with geometric perfection: leaving behind roads and trucks and Flexiload banners and houses with potted plants and balconies with girls waiting for their lovers and skies full of crows flurrying in chaotic dance routines and outdoor barbershops and bus stops where buses never stopped, only to stop in front of an old building and land on Sherry’s arm, who was mindlessly watching the sky from the building’s second floor.”
The narrative waxes poetic and the magic (one cannot possibly run after a bird for such a long period) fleshes out to become real. His djinns in other stories – constructed or real: Dola in “Who Even Cares Who Cares?”, a girl of a hujur (Islamic priest) who lives an almost invisible life; and a djinn girl from the mythical land of Rupsluug in “Jinns Rarely Take the Taxi”, who apparently has fallen in love with the narrator, or so thinks the narrator – reflect on many aspects of our lives: romance, desire, silence and disappearance. Shaams’ magic stems from the deep root of the real, and this is why his stories are important.
Some of his stories, “Things Happen,” “Easy to Upload Sadness” and “Pause,” satirize the reality and truth in a highly bureaucratized world, which is often manipulated by people in power. Shaams plays around with reality, warping it and twisting it to the point where its very nature becomes an allegory for the failings of society.
Who Even Cares Who Cares? is a fascinating read indeed.
Mir Arif is a fiction writer. He works with Arts & Letters.