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.