Kerala priest's short stories offer fascinating insight into young minds
New Delhi, July 8, 2015
Having been immersed in academic concerns for a while now, I was not able to pay attention to the little joys of life like reading for pleasure. One of the first books I read after having ploughed through heavy, academic texts was the collection of short stories, "Thank You, Dear Snake!" by Ben Koryun.
Ben Koryun is the pen name of Rev. Kurien George, a priest and psychologist with the Mar Thoma Syrian Church of India. Koryun, he says, is a reference to his Armenian ancestry. This is the Reverend's second book, the first being a collection of poems called "Echoes from Life", published in 1996 under his official name,
Having read "Echoes from Life" years ago, as a young kid, I looked forward to what he had to offer with his second book. What ensued was a fascinating journey.
Beginning with the first story, titled "Thank You, Dear Snake!", we are given a glimpse into the childlike mind of Balan and his adventures with his companions. The story addresses the issues a young boy faces when thrust into a world where his judgement and wit are his only saviours when it comes to peer pressure.
Introducing Balan as the recurring protagonist in the stories that follow, we can see that they have a certain pattern of coursing through the boy's growing up years, from the earliest memories of his childhood onwards. We are faced with several instances of events a boy might face while growing up, be it the little adventures that result in triumph or lessons in life, or major events like the loss of a friend to sickness. Some stories also provide the boy's point of view towards adult life and activities, focussing on those around him. In doing so, Rev. Kurien brings in the new and not necessarily pleasant experiences of the young ones while interacting with adults.
However, not all stories revolve around Balan and his boyish feats.
Several stories that form an integral part of the book are anecdotes from the perspectives of several other people, who do not feature pointedly in Balan's life at all. The nature of these stories range from humorous to thought-provoking, each of them capable of standing on its own.
Rev. Kurien finds his inspiration in several instances from his growing up years, as well as in his experiences from within the seminary where he trained to be a priest.
We must take cognizance of the writer's history, if we are to comprehend the depth of a story - what about the story makes it believable, and how does the writer provide that unmistakeable tone of truth? In Rev. Kurien's case, as is wont with several other great writers, the stories in this collection are a window opening into his past, not without the pinch of salt for the sake of the readers.
Rev. Kurien was born in 1953. He came to priesthood late in life. After obtaining a degree in Zoology, Rev. Kurien trained to be a chartered accountant, and also worked as an accountant in firms in Saudi Arabia and Delhi.
Towards the late 1980s, he pursued a degree in Divinity, after which he then broadened his focus to psychology and counselling. As an ordained minister with the Church, his responsibilities varied and took into account his psychology training. Although he was the vicar of parishes in Mumbai and Kerala, his main contribution to the Church has been in the form of reformation and rehabilitation projects for different sections of society.
Amongst the most notable of his contributions include his reformation and rehabilitation project for the children of sex-workers, as well as their mothers, especially those infected with HIV, in an initiative called Navjeevan in Mumbai.
Well-liked and fine at oratory, he has also been popular as the students' chaplain for dioceses in India as well as North America.
Rev. Kurien's recent work involves the rehabilitation of those with mental illnesses, while also providing counselling for all kinds of people, including those with learning disabilities. He has provided counselling for de-addiction centres, as well as with a Half-way Home in Kerala.
His areas of special interest are, unsurprisingly, Rehabilitation Psychology and the neurological understandings of psychology. With these interests and approach to the various programmes in Kerala and Mumbai, he has helped hundreds of people find a new and firm footing.
From the style of writing, it becomes clear that the stories are a set of narratives that form a large part of personal experience as well as second-hand experience from being a psychologist. His experience as a psychologist can also be seen from the way the stories invoke introspection and understanding towards the various characters, as if to almost share with us the seeds of therapeutic knowledge from the stories of this book.
This has been executed exceptionally well, and it proves that the collection of short stories, while not all suitable for the very young minds, are perfect for those who feel like they need a walk through their lifetime along with reminding them of the little things that make them who they are today.
The collection stands out for its eclectic selection of stories which are not all connected by a singular theme, but are connected by the reality one faces in every day situations. While situated mainly in Mumbai (then, Bombay) and Delhi, the stories have a unique quality of universality with the nature of human interaction that has been penned down.
Rev. Kurien's love for writing stems from his fondness of literature which was cultivated while he grew up reading the classics. From each of those, he holds dear the essence of great story-telling - the opening out of minds towards the innocence and thrill that lies within the "non-descript" lives of people, and the discovery of new and meaningful within the ordinary.
If one were to find a purpose for the book in today's society, it would be instrumental in understanding the psyche of the child which extends to the domain of adult behaviour through the child's eyes. Episodes of trauma and misunderstanding between an adult and a child are not uncommon in any part of the world, and this book opens another path towards gaining a better footing in tackling a child's issues as a responsible adult.
Rev. Kurien has carefully written and put together these stories over extensive years of conception and curation, keeping in mind that the world today has a need for a different kind of story-telling - a story-telling with a purpose to further human relations and interactions positively. It would be limiting to assume an entertaining perspective of the stories that provide a childlike insight to the world, but it does much more than just entertain. It reminds the reader of a time when they went through similar issues, bringing them closer to a certain closure and justice for themselves.
It's a must read for anyone and everyone, and is available to buy online on Flipkart, Amazon and Google Play, amongst other retailers, in paperback, hard cover, and e-book/Kindle editions.
Vinita Sonny Abraham is a post-graduate in Performance Studies and has trained in piano and ballet.
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