“Death provokes stories in a small town like ours”—Anees Salim’s The Small-town Sea is a provocation after death. Narrating the story of relocation through the eyes of a 13-year-old, the plot is also about loss of innocence, guilt, nostalgia and remembrance. Images play a dominant role almost as a parallel narrative, be it the dead pigeon landing on a patch of blanched sunlight, teeming with brown ants, pulled from the dark corner of a Bougainvillea or the secret beach that takes away a childhood companion. Likewise, smell marks a predominant presence in the novel, almost like a stray character. Death, love, warmth and fear come as experiences realised in and through a fusion of senses, in synesthesia.
The story runs in two phases: circling around a father who aspires to die in a small town near the sea, demanding a relocation of the entire family, and another centering on a son who craves for his lost world in the city, where a new metro-rail line is awaited with much expectation. As much as we are made familiar with the city and the small town in fairly realistic terms, the magic is created through a long trail of images that are a fantastic blend of the real and the imaginary.