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Category Archives: Short Stories

Under The Rain Tree – Vatsala Balachandran Warrier

I should have judged the book by its cover this time. Sometimes my quest for checking out unheralded authors backfires, and how. This is another book that I regret having bought, not for the cost but the anticipation and effort. After having read short story collections by Kunal Basu, Shinie Antony, Vassanji and Rohinton Mistry, may be I set my expectations too high. This book was thoroughly disappointing to say the least.

So what’s wrong with the book? Everything. Published from Cedar Books, ‘an imprint of Pustak Mahal’, the very appearance of the book is juvenile. They have a caricature of a tree with an umbrella and drops of rain drawn like students draw short lines to indicate water. Methinks they re-used the cover of a pre-school coloring book minus the see saw, the merry-go-round and the smiling children with pigtails and colored cheeks. They should have had a statutory warning ‘Not for Children Above 13’. The stories are like those short stories in Women’s Era.

Coming to the content the stories are superficial and hollow. Some of them have plots that are strongly remniscent of some mallu movies – like Time and Tide, Mist in the Mountain, A Rainbow in my Heart. The plots are predictable and uninteresting. But for one story, ‘The Champion’, the author does not let the reader draw his own conclusions nor does it tickle your imagination. After all the beauty of short stories is to be crisp and let the reader draw up the story line in his own head. Here everything is staring in your face and is disappointing.  The editing could have been tighter, there are errors in punctuations, there are avoidable repetitions. The language and the descriptions are laboured and quite tedious.

Buy and read at your own risk.

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Posted by on July 11, 2008 in Disappointing, Short Stories

 

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Seance on a Sunday Afternoon – Shinie Antony

I had bought Kardamom Kisses almost a year ago and gave it up after a few chapters. It somehow didn’t keep me wanting to finish it. Last week I bought Shinie Antony’s collection of short stories, ‘Seance on a Sunday Afternoon’ spurred on by the recent coverage about her book launch. After reading that I tried to give Kardamom Kisses another shot and I think I have figured out why I couldn’t complete it earlier. I am not a seasoned critic but in my opinion it has to do with the pace. Shinie’s writing is brisk and fast, almost staccato. This works admirably well in the short story genre but in a novel one tends to be attuned to a leisurely pace.

I almost fell in the same trap as with my earlier failed attempt and was beginning to lose interest with the first three stories – ‘Contact’, ‘Monkey Darling’, ‘Opposites’. These were totally over the top and had more shock value than any real content. However, the next one ‘In the Night’ was a good one dealing about conflict and loss. And soon I was kind of hooked. ‘The Sofa’ was a poignant story about old age and the tussle between parental love and marital amity. ‘Overheard’ is a brilliant piece on stray conversations with no real connection between them. These are 26 separate monotones that talk about things that an ordinary person goes through everyday. The others that stood out for me are ‘Seance on a Sunday Afternoon’, a story about despair, futility and ennui. The protagonist lives a despairing life without any hope of deliverance except in suicide. ‘Tasteless’ has middle aged Devi trying to take control over her domain, the kitchen and establish her culinary skills only to realise that she is just not as good as her mother. Her final comfort comes when her son announces that he is a chef in the US and a noted one at that. A simple but delightful story. As is usual in short story collections consistency is an issue in this one as well.

As stated earlier, Shinie’s style is perfectly suited for short stories, its fast paced and rapid. The themes are ‘slice of life’ and very realistic. The stories do not run on like novellas and usually don’t go beyond 6 pages at best. Therefore it is easy to finish a story between ad breaks if you multitask like me between a book and ‘CSI’ or Last Comic Standing’.

 

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The Japanese Wife – Kunal Basu

An engaging collection of short stories, this is a good read. ‘The Japanese Wife’ the title of the book and the first story is definitely the best in the collection. Here is a story that talks of innocent love, transcending the physical. The love between Snehamoy, a rural schoolteacher, and Miyage, his Japanese pen friend, is touching and poignant. In ‘Snakecharmer’, Israeli business man Jacob Tsur comes to India to end his life. He meets a snakecharmer’s daughter who takes it on herself to stall it. I found ‘Long Live Imelda Marcos’ to be interesting as well, with Mary the Filipina maid’s painful story. Mary is quite a strong character, stoic, unwavering and practical. I like the way Basu has weaved the Gujarat riots into the story showing its consequences in far away Hong Kong.

‘The Accountant’ deals with rebirth and the travails of a man who wants to speak the truth that history has coloured over the years. The title of the story ‘Tiger! Tiger!’ is haunting and remniscent of Blake’s poem, ‘Tiger’. It is a story of love and betrayal, set in the Sunderbans. Despite it being a short story, Basu does well to build the lead characters, Rowena the foreigner, Anwar the poacher, Amina his wife and Captain Singh the forest officer. Rowena is caught between the paradox of right and her friendship with Anwar. Amina shows her feline side by taking a younger and virile mate and then ensures his end to maintain the pack’s customs.

As always with most such collections, the quality cannot always be consistent. Some of the stories like ‘Lotus-Dragon’, ‘Lenin’s Cafe’ and ‘Miss Annie’ are tedious and convoluted. However, it is definitely worth a dekko.

 
 

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Elvis, Raja Stories

I am moving to another genre today – short stories. My biggest complaint about airports in this country is the lack of good book stores in any of them. More about that later. I was almost in panic, I had miscalculated the amount of reading material I had packed. I felt that since it was a short journey I needed only one book. The one I had, ‘My God Died Young’, I had already devoured. So the book store at the Thiruvananthapuram Airport looked like a frosty beer mug on a summer afternoon. The mirage didn’t last long, there were hardly a hundred books which were hidden among those tacky wooden kathakali masks (which the tourists buy by the dozens) sandalwood garlands and those irritating noisy strings made of sea shells. And in the true spirit of ‘lets hook the firang’s hunger for Indian spirituality’ there were rows of books on Osho, yoga and ayurveda. Let me add that there were a couple of books by Khushwanth Singh and Shobha De and obviously I was not in the mood for any of them. I was looking for something light and easy. I saw this oddly colored book with an even odder name – Elvis, Raja Stories.

This is a delightful collection of short stories that had me hooked long after my journey had ended. I sat up and finished it that night. Largely set in Africa and Canada, the stories are brilliantly crafted. They are humorous, witty and ‘slice-of-life’. The first story ‘When She Was Queen’ gets you hooked. Despite the limitation of the novella medium, Mr. Vassanji has complete control over the narrative. The story is a study in the art of keeping the reader hooked and socking him with the proverbial twist in the tale. Watch out for it. ‘The Girl on A Bicycle’ is another one that kind of shocks you right in the beginning and then develops into a tale of betrayal. ‘The Expected One’ is funny and entertaining. I also liked the conflict that Yasmin is confronted with in ‘Her Two Husbands’. ‘Last Rites’ is again about conflict. Shamshu is caught between tradition and his friend’s dying wish.

Most of the stories are entertaining, some I admit didn’t appeal to me as much. I did skip a few like ‘Is it Still October’, ‘The Trouble with Tea’ and ‘She, With Bill and George’.

Mr. Vassanji is a highly impressive writer who was born in Kenya and raised in Tanzania before moving to Canada. He describes himself as an “IndoAfrican Canadian writer”. Vassanji is the author of six novels and two collections of short stories.

 
 

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