short stories Posts

Fun and fantastic reads!

Fun and fantastic reads!

Steampunk-An-Anthology-of-FaThree collection of short stories by three different publishers — Walker Books, Hot Key Books and Bloomsbury —  that I have thoroughly enjoyed in recent weeks are on steampunk fiction, the fantastic and unnatural creatures and witch stories. I have absolutely loved the collections. Taken my own sweet time to read them, dip into them and enjoyed the stories tremendously. Read them if you can. Under my Hate, Tales from the Cauldron, Hot Key Books

Unnatural Creatures, short stories chosen by Neil Gaiman

 

 

 

 

 

Ed. by Kelly Link and Gavin J. Grant Welcome to Steampunk! Fun anthology of fantastically rich and strange stories Walker Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 £7.99

Ed. Jonathan Strahan Under my Hat: Tales from the Cauldron Hot Key Books, London, 2012. Pb. pp. 420 Rs 350 

Neil Gaiman, stories chosen by Unnatural Creatures Bloomsbury, London, 2013. Hb. pp. 465. Rs. 499

Meghna Pant, “Happy Birthday! And other stories”

Meghna Pant, “Happy Birthday! And other stories”

18111057

Sitting in the mall day after day, like mannequins on public display, we have become objects of ridicule, especially in the easy black-or-white judgement of the young. We have to stay as invisible here as we do in our homes.

“Lemon and Chilli”

Happy Birthday is Meghna Pant’s second work of fiction in as many years. The first was a novel, One and a Half Wife. It was received very well — critically and commercially. With her collection of short stories she has strung together a series of vignettes dealing with the Indian middle class. They may be in Mumbai or non-resident Indians (NRIs) settled in America. They are competently told, but as Jeet Thayil says, the stories are “merciless”. The loneliness and despair that permeates through the stories is very depressing. ( My favourite is probably “Lemon and Chilli”.) Surprisingly despite these negative feelings it makes you want to read the next story and the next, till you reach the last page. Her sensitivity in describing the life of an elderly, retired person is devastatingly chilling, for it is so true. Some of these stories seem to have been inspired by events reported in the newspapers, like “Friends” and “Dented and Painted Women”, but Meghna Pant has most certainly made the stories her own by spinning intricate yarns.

I did like reading Happy Birthday! but to shirk off the overwhelming sense of sadness will take a while, merely because the stories are so well told and believable. But read you must. This is a new voice that will leave a stamp on Indian fiction in the years to come.

Meghna Pant, Happy Birthday! And other stories
Random House India, New Delhi, 2013. Pb. pp. 290 Rs. 299. An ebook also available.

Irshad Abdul Kadir, “Clifton Bridge”

Irshad Abdul Kadir, “Clifton Bridge”

I have just finished reading Clifton Bridge by Irshad Abdul Kadir. I loved it! I suspect it is years of engagement as a lawyer, observing people, listening to stories, imbibing them that have been used in writing these stories. The words are just enough, not more, not less. Even the social climbing, ambitious Punjabi mother, Shabnam is only heard on a couple of occasions, but the Punjabi-English intonation is perfect. ( ‘Tariq, you’re talking about, he’s having tuition for final paper,’ Shabana explained….) And later when she is screeching hysterically, “yes, yes” on behalf of her daughter, Farah, at the nikah, her crudity, her desperation at improving her social status by marrying her daughter into the governor’s family (even though her husband is obscenely rich) are exposed so well.

Obviously listening to many stories over the years as a lawyer, also being a civil rights activist and a theatre critic have helped coalesce many skills into writing these eleven stories. There is a sharpness in the etching, there is a sensitivity in telling the tale from the point of view of the main characters and yet, always the shocking realisation that reality is cruel, life and its circumstances are ephemeral. It does not matter if it the family is the poorest of the poor like that of Jumma, Rano and Peeru in the title story, “Clifton Bridge” or that of the feudal lord, Malik Aslam and his Begum, the steps that the men take “all necessary steps to preserve order”. For Jumma it is selling off Bilal to a known paedophile, lusting after and nearly raping his “daughter” Noori ( “a dusky, dark-haired childwoman ripening early in the season”) and having no qualms about selling of the youngest child, Zeebu’s kidney for a decent pile of money. Similarly, Malik Aslam allows his Begum to keep Chumpa, an orphan in their home, as a companion-cum-housekeeper to assist her “in the tedious functions expected of jagirdanis”. Also the Begum genuinely believes her husband when he “promised my father, we would continue living like your liberal ancestors in the Raj…and…and…give a wide berth to the sick segregated lifestyle being foisted on us.” So she is horrified many years later when he summarily dismisses Chumpa from their service for no fault of her own, save that he did not want their household name sullied by rumours of an attempted rape by his prospective son-in-law. Malik Aslam’s explanation for the dismissal of Chumpa — “For being in the wrong place at the wrong time…for disturbing the order of our lives.”

This is a collection of stories that shows the rich and poor in unexpected hues–sure the feudal lords exist, just as the corrupt bureaucrats are a reality too. So is the fact that a mujahid has a child by a Christian lover and a globetrotting professor tries to cope with cultural and ideological barriers. I liked the powerful women characters. It could be the co-wives of Daud, a man with a roving eye; Chumpa the maid of the “big house”, Meher, widow, who opts to live alone with three daughters or even Sultana who becomes a world renowned singer, after her marriage. I enjoyed reading these stories. They present Pakistan as more than just the typical image of the country—seen as a hotbed of civil unrest, corruption and conservative mindsets. I hope Irshad Abdul Kadir does well.

13 April 2013

Irshad Abdul Kadir Clifton Bridge HarperCollins India Original, Pb. Rs. 299.

Janice Pariat “Boats on Land”

Janice Pariat “Boats on Land”

An excerpt from an email exchange with Janice Pariat who recently published her debut collection of short stories — Boats on Land (Random House India, Hb), Nov 2012

Boats on Land (cover image), Janice Pariat

 

JB

: I cannot tell you how much I have enjoyed reading the anthology. It has taken me back to the time we spent in Shillong. Much of what you write about is so familiar to me including the silence on the streets during the curfew, playing cricket and the unexpected violence. Your anthology is so focused on the Khasi life, stories, people, the richness of stories and histories that intermingle that at times it is difficult to separate them. (Somewhere I read a review that termed it as a North Eastern collection. I do not agree with it.) I also like the arrangement of stories in the book. Starting from mid-19C to the present day. There is a gentle walk through time. Many reviewers have termed your stories as nuanced but for me, you live and breathe Khasi culture. You are the perfect medium with your wonderful command over the English language to communicate it to the outside world. I am sure your stories have generated many positive reviews but they would resonate well with those who are familiar with Shillong. The casual references to ceremonies, familiar landmarks in the city, the mix of folklore and reality, the growing tensions, the dhakars….I love the way you create the characters many of whom I suspect are really etched after your sharp and astute observation of people and listening to stories. There is a deep sense of calm and confidence ( I do not know how to explain this to you) in your writing. It is as if you are completely at ease writing what you do, this is what you do best and will never be apologetic (nor should you be!) about who you are. I love the way you bring in Khasi words, references to the Kongs, the dishes, without necessarily explaining them to anyone! Thank heavens! High time someone did that. For years I have been hearing about it being critically analysed but rarely spotted it in print. All those questions that you have been asked in interviews about writers who inspired you or you like reading sound trite. You are an original voice. Truly loved what you have written. As for the lesbian question in an interview baffled me considerably. Was it asked on the basis of the kissing scene and the title story? I am really not sure what to make of it. Maybe in DHL’s time yes, but now? No. At least not to my mind. But that is for you to tell me.

Janice: … absolutely thrilled that you loved the stories and thank you for your extended feedback. So glad you connected with them in that intimate, special way. It cheers me up endlessly to know that my work is read and treasured.