The poems in this book hardly betray any artistic ambition to survive for posterity or find a place in the annals of poetry. Their oath is to the present moment; they wish to be read, reviewed and examined only in the context they choose for themselves.
Every era begets a narrative form to express its yearnings and anxieties. The era of WhatsApp and Twitter has led to a visible assault on languages, but it has also led to their mutation, and challenged the narrators to explore new modes of expression. The creative tussle has produced a distinct form of micro-fiction that narrates a tale in few characters (not words) with extreme brevity. Founded by Anuj Gosalia and Chintan Ruparel in 2013, Terribly Tiny Tales began as a micro-fiction platform on social media and soon saw its strength growing. It has a team of ‘select writers’ and also accepts outside contributions.
As its short poems and tales gained wide readership, the first volume of its selected works was published in 2017, each of these composed in 140 or fewer characters. The second volume features 97 poems, most of them a bit longer than the earlier work, but that doesn’t affect the concept behind the narration—easy-to-comprehend poems that mostly reflect the concerns of the millennial generation. The narrator of a poem, for instance, fights against the ongoing crises in places like Uganda and Syria by replacing the profile picture, tweeting some quotes and creating hashtags. The narrator is not unaware of the irony and self-delusion involved in such outrage.
One poem is about a young girl “who steps out on a hot Mumbai afternoon” in “small denim shorts”, another is about a couple who “never burnt bridges”, and “just walked different paths”. The poems in this aesthetically-printed book hardly betray any artistic ambition to survive for posterity or find a place in the annals of poetry. Their oath is to the present moment; they wish to be read, reviewed and examined only in the context they choose for themselves. It’s the song of a generation that is “scared of eye contact that lasted more than three seconds”, and believes that “loneliness could be as harmful to health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day”.
The poems, as they strive for pithiness, do mark a creative usage of the online space, yet several of them seem to be the products of the first draft. A little more work on the syntax and the sentiment could lend them greater complexity, and consequently artistic merit. Micro-fiction, in a way, is not a new form. Writers of preceding generations have often devised innovative ways to narrate tales and write poetry with great succinctness. Sutras of Sanskrit literature, haiku poems of Japan and Urdu shayari are among the many instances in world literature that saw an accomplished work in a few characters. The Twitter era has seen its institutionalisation in a new form.
The obvious difference is that while the earlier shorter works were the product of a writer’s inner restlessness to evolve a new narrative, the present form is largely driven by the realisation that the attention span of the public is increasingly becoming shorter, hence a new narrative is required to address the reader that straddles the online world. It’s not hard to guess the treacherous waters a poem may face if it chooses to become reader-oriented.
Contemporary micro-fiction certainly needs to be acknowledged, and celebrated, too, but its practitioners may also employ a self-reflexive gaze that critically examines the hesitations and anxieties of the form, its accomplishments and betrayals. The mantra of Terribly Tiny Tales—“Tiny is the next best thing”—may suit an advertisement campaign for apparels, it doesn’t seem to reflect the aesthetics of storytelling.
A fiction writer and journalist, the author is currently a fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study, Shimla