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Volume 18

Dead Medium - Summer 2017

About the Issue

Anil Menon

Written by
Anil Menon

Anil Menon’s debut Young Adult novel The Beast With Nine Billion Feet (Zubaan, 2010) was shortlisted for the 2010 Vodafone-Crossword award and the 2010 Parallax prize. In 2012, Mr. Menon co-edited an international anthology of short fiction Breaking the Bow. His most recent novel Half of What I Say (Bloomsbury, 2015) has been shortlisted for The Hindu newspaper’s annual literary fiction prize for 2016. Mr. Menon’s short fiction has appeared in several anthologies and magazines such as Albedo One, InterZone, Interfictions Online, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Sybil’s Garage and Strange Horizons.


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Guest Editor’s Note


When Torsa Ghosal told me that Papercuts magazine was considering an issue based on the theme of “dead medium”, it initially evoked Bruce Sterling’s “modest proposal”, written way back in 1995, to launch the Dead Media Project. Sterling’s proposal was for a book that would be about:

“….the failures of media, the collapses of media, the supercessions of media, the strangulations of media, a book detailing all the freakish and hideous media mistakes that we should know enough now not to repeat, a book about media that have died on the barbed wire of technological advance, media that didn’t make it, martyred media, dead media.”

The Dead Media project seems to have died as modestly as it was birthed. Further discussions with Torsa and her colleagues Omer Wahaj, Pooja Pande, and Azka Shahid eventually made it clear that we had something quite different in mind. This issue isn’t about media, whether living, dead, half-dead, existentially-challenged or otherwise. It is about “dead mediums”. The term is mischievously ambiguous. To my mind, if a medium exists to convey messages, or more generally, to mediate between this and that, between here and there, between now and then, then a “dead medium” is something that’s become a mediator of just one message, namely, the inevitability of death. A dead medium is a presence that has come to signify an absence. Encountering such an object, we may raise our hand in antique auctions, toss it into the garbage, wax nostalgic, or deconstruct sepia-colored time.

We encounter such objects all around us. For example, we read our blood-rich myths and wonder how stories that could once arouse so much passion in us as children can now only evoke clever thoughts about archetypes and Jung. Or we may watch a movie in a cinema, and in the darkened hall, be filled with an eerie sense that we’re all ghosts. Or we hear that Deep Thought has beaten chess grandmaster Kasparov and then we’re at a loss as to what the word “play” used to mean. Or we witness the comical farce of the US building border walls and realize that walls aren’t intended to keep people out or provide any security, but rather, intended to send messages about the death of an immigrant nation. So on and so forth.

This is only my interpretation of the term “dead medium”. Fortunately, this issue provides many other viewpoints. Some use the resources of fiction. Bhavani’s “A Story That Lived” will speak to those with tongues capable of saying anything except things in their mother-tongue. Arnold’s “Karma Garden” has a Buddhist take on the theme. Nasir’s story “Postscript”, set in Karachi, embodies the theme in its postman protagonist. Chris Brown’s story “Some Other Modulations” invokes shortwave radio as a tool to send secret messages between people unknown, on issues incomprehensible, and misdeciphered into poems by a poet incompetent. K. Vish’s short story “An Obituary” comes to the theme’s funeral but is unable to suppress a giggle, so to speak. And Umer Khan’s surreal “Ten” shows us a world where the future has happened, and so with possibility dead, facts have to be re-purposed as fiction.

Less easily summarized, the poems of Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Sadaat Ruhul and Domenic Scopa complement and extend the theme in unusual ways. And as always, this issue of Papercuts has an excellent collection of reportage by Qudsia A Rana, Torsa Ghosal, Kanishka Gupta, Farjad, Mazhar and Meenu, Disha Mullick and Shabani Hassanwalia, Swaati Chattopadhyay, and Pooja Pande. Each piece brings into focus something either overlooked, inconvenient, obsolete or impossibly resurgent.

And that’s the truth, I suppose. The dead won’t stay dead. They write our libraries, lecture us through our teachers’ mouths, ride stone horses in parks, give money to causes, crowd around the newborn, attend every wedding, and give company to the dying. We would be lost without the dead and their mediations. It is my pleasure therefore– I have no choice really— to step aside, end my mediation, and let the dead speak for themselves.



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