What Am I Reading: Anpu Varkey

STIR looks into the reading habits of leading creatives – the Indian graffiti artist delves into Vermillion Sands, a collection of new wave science fiction short stories by J. G. Ballard.

by STIRworld Published on : Mar 31, 2020

What is the name of the book?

Anpu Varkey (AV): Vermilion Sands.

Who is the author?

AV: J. G. Ballard.

What is the genre?

AV: New wave science fiction - it’s a collection of short stories based in a fictional place called 'Vermilion Sands’.

Why this book - could you please highlight its most notable aspects?

AV: Vermilion Sands is a resort town, careening with artists, poets, actresses in an unencumbered leisure. Each story signals a different superior mechanism that spills, like the cloud sculptors of Coral D, where painted gliders sail above the sand reefs to carve a portrait on a cloud.

Ballard materialises landscapes as if they were painted by a surrealist. The writing is vivid and it propels you to envision the disenchanted lifestyles of the rich within Vermilion Sands. It’s a decrepit world of vanishing aura, furnished by a blazing landscape.

Vermilion Sands, a collection of new wave science fiction short stories by J.G. Ballard | What Am I Reading: Anpu Varkey | STIRworld
Vermilion Sands, a collection of new wave science fiction short stories by J.G. Ballard Image Credit: Anpu Varkey

One of the most haunting short stories from the book is Cry Hope, Cry Fury - an injured captain takes shelter at an artist’s abode, who then proceeds to make a reclining portrait of him with photosensitive paint. The living paint paints itself more grotesquely, revealing more of the artists’ inner nature.

Ballard creates these barren landscapes with scanty human presence. Within it are sculpted clouds, cerise (a light, clear red colour) sand, orchids that are operatic, sonic sculptures that screech like a banshee and metallic sculptures that grow and produce hellish music. It’s all there in Vermilion Sands.

Did you get any significant insights? Did you gain knowledge or did it help you unwind?

AV: The innards of his writings are very evocative. It can be re-read multiple times. It most definitely is a good read, the writing style instilling a sense of desolation and loneliness within the landscapes painted with words. It’s superbly descriptive.

Is there any one thing that you would take home from the read?

AV: I am inspired to paint more cerise landscapes.

  • Painting by Varkey, inspired by Ballard | What Am I Reading: Anpu Varkey | STIRworld
    Painting by Varkey, inspired by Ballard Image Credit: Anpu Varkey
  • Painting by Varkey, inspired by Ballard - closeup | What Am I Reading: Anpu Varkey | STIRworld
    Painting by Varkey, inspired by Ballard - closeup Image Credit: Anpu Varkey

What is your favourite quote from the book? Why?

AV: I like the starting of Venus Smiles, another story from this book, - "low notes on a high afternoon" - I like the way it sounds and it sets a nice tone for an opening.

What is your take on the book? Would you recommend it?

AV: It’s mainly a vain pleasure, seeing how Ballard composes words so enigmatically to evoke a fantastical place, without belying the fact that it’s unreal. It’s very hard to describe this work! I am enthused by the colour palette he describes through the many descriptions of landscape. Highly recommend J. G. Ballard.

A glimpse into Varkey’s reading den perfumed with suffused light, and co inhabited by her feline Jaba | What Am I Reading: Anpu Varkey | STIRworld
A glimpse into Varkey’s reading den perfumed with suffused light, and co inhabited by her feline Jaba Image Credit: Anpu Varkey

When do you read?

AV: During the day! You might notice the scratches on the book cover if you look closely – you will rarely find a book of mine without paw marks – it is first studied by the feline (my cat, Jaba) and then passed on. The windows of the room where I usually read has a reasonably large view from the eight storey pad that I live in. I get a fantastic view of the vast expanse of sky, a great spot to mull over vacantly.

Look up more such interesting reads from the series ‘What Am I Reading’ here.

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