In this game from the first round of the World Cup of Literature, we have two countries of different cultures with their own unique attitudes, values and beliefs facing off against each other. From south-east Asia is the ethnically diverse and wildly populous country of India presenting Two Minutes by Ashokamitran. From another corner of the world in the Middle East is the tropical and conservative country of Kuwait, presenting Zoo Syndrome by Sadaa al-Dass. These are both highly imaginative tales of great curiosity and intrigue which will be explored deeply to discover which author evokes their meaning in the most powerful and resonant manner.
Ashokmaitran’s Two Minutes is a complex, fast-paced short story that conveys many themes and messages in a shockingly short span of time, structured over the course of three chapters with varying length. To describe the opening as intriguing would be an understatement, as it thoroughly recounts a compelling narrative inside the main narrative which acts as a catalyst for the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery. The first chapter focuses on the protagonist musing about forgotten memories and detailing past stories that he’s read whose titles and authors he’s since forgotten. He becomes consumed by a desire to discover the origin of the opening narrative which he discovers in an old newspaper. The second chapter takes a sharp left turn as the protagonist suddenly becomes wrongfully accused of murder and is hung for murder, where in the last two minutes of his life, he has a sudden revelation over the mysteries that have consumed him. The third chapter ends on an ambiguous note as a clock continually chimes and a man goes to check the time.
Sadaa al-Dass’s Zoo Syndrome is a surrealist, psychological tale that is weird, compelling and strangely impactful. It follows a man who wakes up to discover that his entire environment has transformed to resemble a zoo. Everyone around him including his wife, neighbours and co-workers have now become various animals such as a doe, black widow and a lion. Only some young children still retain their human forms. Despite this strange phenomenon, everyday life remains as usual as people still go to work, politicians still debate and people are still addicted to Twitter.
When weighing up which story deserves to win this round, there are two main categories to consider which are the intercultural elements and the aesthetic qualities. However, both stories contain a lack of intercultural elements with life in the countries of India and Kuwait still remaining a distant memory that is out of my grasp. Two Minutes does contain some minor elements such as the use of rupees as a currency, the seemingly popular food of peanuts and the mention of a writer named Ka Na Su. Yet these are rather light touches to a narrative which would otherwise be exactly the same without them. Zoo Syndrome conveys nothing overt about Kuwait’s culture, its depiction of a city rather vague and unclear. Though when viewing each story in its entirety, it is clear that neither story has any genuine interest in conveying a certain way of life, rather they are stories about much grander and imaginative conceits. As such, the intercultural significance cannot be used as an indicator of the deserving story which is why it is the artistic merit of each story which will be the sole decider.
Two Minutes can be described almost like a rollercoaster because of the amount of material that is covered across the story. Somehow, it never feels rushed but rather constantly fascinating, each piece of new information gained helps to paint a portrait of the thought process of such an intriguing protagonist. The overarching element that defines the story is the idea that in the last two minutes of your life, you will be overcome with a great revelation about the mysteries that have plagued you. It’s an intriguing notion that leads to insightful conclusions to the delirious, profound story, which gripped my attention from start to finish. This is a story that you need to read multiple times to fully comprehend and grasp its meaning, though the fact that it still flows so well and doesn’t feel overly pretentious is a remarkable achievement. It’s ambitious in scope but is still written in a manner which feels personal and authentic.
Zoo Syndrome is a bizarre, alluring story that has some great world-building and riveting social commentary. The expectation of a world that is resided by an assortment of animals would be that it is a world radically different from our own. This a world filled with tigers, lions and lionesses deliberating political reforms, where mischievous rats tend to their smartphones and a great white seagull picks through the trash. However, as the author describes the transformed environment, it becomes clear that life is still eerily similar to human existence. The story opens with the description of a newspaper featuring a brightly dressed corpse of a young girl. When the protagonist looks through his phone, he is confronted by the images of dead children, the snarky remarks of a politician and the need to scroll mindlessly through Twitter. All of these aspects of life are ingrained into our modern consciousness, something that we have simply accepted rather than confronting. It seems that the human race and other animals may not be so dissimilar after all.
Overall, both Two Minutes and Zoo Syndrome are amazing stories, that are thoughtfully written and beautifully orchestrated. Ashokamitran and Sadaa al-Daas have both presented imaginative tales of great artistic merit and it is quite a challenge for me to declare which story is superior. Ultimately, it came down to my personal taste which is why I declare Two Minutes from India, the winner of this game from Round 1. The fast-paced nature of the plot-driven story told in a compelling, evocative manner made for an enlightening and impactful experience that was very memorable. The more complex nature of the story appealed greatly to me and felt more thought-provoking due to the many layers contained within the narrative. Zoo Syndrome is still a commendable work but its more straightforward nature felt slightly underwhelming compared to the more elaborate execution of Two Minutes.
India to Kuwait, 1–0.