Review by Arjun Mukherjee.
Book written by Prem Nath.
I smoked up. The long dangling ash quivered for a second and then fell in slow motion on the hard floor shattering into a zillion tiny pieces. An acrid smell was melting my lungs and the pupils were dilated to an all cap O. The blinking red light on the monitor opened its gaping mouth wider, felt the air with its slimy long tongue and tightened like a noose around my neck. It was the book, it was breathing, the voice in my head hissed out loud ‘you can’t escape from these crowded rooms you dumb fuck’. The page marker showed 164, the book was finished but my journey had just begun.
‘Crowded Rooms’ is a nine-short-story-long book by Prem Nath. The author profile quaintly mentions that ‘this is his first book thing’. Prem Nath takes the simplest of things, objects and emotions, puts them in a mixer-grinder, turns the knob to max, until the plot blends the simple and the surreal to give an ultimate head rush. Imagine being locked up in a room with a screaming cloud, a blue light, a stalking TV, a cardboard box, a schizophrenic killer or being trapped inside a spooky parallel world or into each others dreams. Simple plots take unexpected turns and the story-lines nosedive into a world of surrealism, fantasy and sheer hallucination.
Inspite of the ‘sucked into a vortex effect’ of the stories the writing is lucid and the descriptions vivid to the point that your attention will seldom waver. There are subplots within the plots yet all the dangling, broken strings are ultimately tied together to portray the loneliness and complexities of urban life. Prem Nath sticks to the city, its characters, its rooms, the chai shops, hangouts, lonely houses and glass buildings to unleash his imagination. There is a Murakamisque air and listless feeling to each story but if I have to pick my favourites, ‘TV is Good’, ‘An Office Story’, ‘Crowded Rooms’ and ‘A Blue Day’ stand out because of the generous toppings of freak factor loaded onto them.
Here’s a prescription. Don’t try to read ‘Crowded Rooms’ at one go. Give a gap as you move from one story to the next. Take time off to burp and digest what you just read and let the story churn in your head and let your head squeeze out the last drop of juice from it. There’s no doubt that Prem Nath is a heady, refreshing addition to the literary scene and the giddy after-effect confirms his arrival.
It was pouring inside the room now. The tall bookshelf shuddered like a wet dog and sent the water drops flying in all directions like shards of glass. Somewhere in the darkness of the sofa the book flipped over, stood on its spine and flashed an evil grin. It knew the way to the inner sanctum of my head. It was making tunnels and burrowing through my brains. Once I finished reading the book I knew there was no escaping…I was forever trapped inside ‘Crowded Rooms.’