Tag Archives: short stories

Read 208 of 2021. Taxi Wallah and Other Stories by Numair Atif Choudhury

Taxi Wallah and Other Stories by Numair Atif Choudhury

Title: Taxi Wallah and Other Stories Author: Numair Atif Choudhury
Publisher: HarperCollins India, Fourth Estate India
ISBN: 978-9354892134
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 132
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I haven’t read Babu Bangladesh!, but now I will. I will ensure that I do, at least before the year ends, because Numair’s writing holds you by the throat, it suffocates you, it does not let you be, and more than anything else, it makes you see the stark differences in society, if in case you didn’t know about them already. 

Choudhury’s Bangladesh is a place very much like others in and around the country – poverty-stricken, gross injustice and inequalities that are visible from a mile, and more than anything else for you to acknowledge it. They make you uncomfortable because that’s the truth and we are aware of it.

Whether it is the very evident class difference that surfaces in “Rabia” – a story of a house-help and her sudden change of relationship with her aapa (who doesn’t want to be called that anymore), or in “Crumble” – a very hard-hitting story of Shahed – a brick-breaker in Dhaka who is just trying to make ends meet, or even if it is through the story “Different Eyes” about organ donors – the ones who have no choice but to do what they do, to settle their loans, each story exposes the darkness within. Choudhury’s stories aren’t for the faint-hearted. They aren’t glossy, they aren’t easy to digest, they don’t exist in happy and shiny places. They live hidden in shadows and come out when they wish to, or are already in plain sight but not seen by people.

Numair sees the world through a lens so huge and yet so minuscule – the stories could perhaps be sent in any third-world country and yet only belong to Bangladesh. The joys (however small), the sorrows, the defeat, the victories (very rare), and kindness that displays itself unexpectedly (say in “Chokra” – a beautiful story of street children and one in particular), Choudhury’s writing is sharp, raw, poetic, and shows the mirror the world.

Read this fantastic collection of short stories, and then read Babu Bangladesh! (as I will), and then lament about the fact that he was taken away too soon.

Read 203 of 2021. Are You Enjoying? : Stories by Mira Sethi

Are You Enjoying?-Stories by Mira Sethi

Title: Are You Enjoying?: Stories
Author: Mira Sethi
Publisher: Bloomsbury India
ISBN: 978-1526643957
Genre: Short Stories, Contemporary Fiction Pages: 208
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

With the onset of the lockdown last year, my mother and I watched Pakistani serials. We were reeling under the influence of Dhoop Kinare watched years ago and thought that Pakistani serials would be made the same way – with nuance. We were mistaken to a large extent. They were just like the K serials of India, barring a few. The same old upholding of values, same old serials seeped in patriarchy, the same old stories of sacrifice and love.

Why do I speak of these serials? Because Mira Sethi’s collection of stories set in Pakistan are refreshingly different and real unlike these shows. Or maybe these shows are also real, each depicting their own universe of events, and the truths that reside in them.

Mira Sethi’s collection of six stories and a novella is not only extraordinary but also immensely detailed, with an eye for pointing out the quirks, eccentricities, and to a large extent satirical. These stories are the much-needed representation we needed of the country. Maybe some of them even made me think of Zoya Akhtar’s movies. They seemed to be set in the same milieu. The rich with their immense set of problems, insecurities, constantly finding ways to escape what is being served to them by life or by fate as a consequence of their deeds (maybe). Whether it is a man who is recovering from his divorce and falls in love with a neighbour in “Mini Apple” or a young actress who wants to make something of her life in “Breezy Blessings”, or even if it is the matriarch in “A Life of Its Own” (which is in two parts) – all of them are struggling with something or the other – their lives are no different than what you and I live. Sethi draws from people she knows, irrespective of whether rich or not. The stories matter and they speak for themselves.

My personal favourite was Mini Apple till I read “Tomboy” and fell in love with the story. The understanding between the friends Asha and Zarrar, as they get married and continue living, hiding their sexuality from society at large, spoke volumes to me as a gay man living in India. We think we have managed to break free, but have we really?

Mira’s stories constantly defy, they are thinly veiled in wit and humour, sometimes even to make a point, but mostly these stories reveal the human condition and the spaces we inhabit. These stories could be set anywhere in the world, but Mira’s Pakistan is the modern country we need to know of – its contradictions, the complexities, the night life, the lives that are not supposed to live to the fullest, and the constant battles of power and desire. It is the Pakistan that speaks volumes, if you read carefully between the lines.

On the surface these stories look simple but let them not fool you. They are anything but easy. They are an easy read for sure, but their impact lasts longer than you think it would. Sethi’s writing is brazen, feisty even, it is refreshing and more than what you have already heard of it. It is a collection that has rightfully earned every bit of praise. Read it.

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories by Kamala Das

Title: Padmavati the Harlot and Other Stories
Author: Kamala Das
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
ISBN: 978-9389836165
Genre: Short Stories, Literary Fiction Pages: 108
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Don’t get taken in by the title of the collection and the begin to read it. Actually, you know what, get taken in by the title, buy it because of it, read it, and understand the brilliance of Kamala Das’s writing that is often layered, always real and grounded, criticising the world and its limitations when it comes to women – in the way they are treated, and sometimes also how they take charge of their lives.

Kamala Das’s women are fierce, bold, courageous, even shy, but do not mistake them to be fearful. They may seem like that at beginning of some stories, but they do not end with that character trait for sure. Her women battle. Her women speak their mind, and mostly don’t. The women in her stories are her. The women in her stories are perhaps all of us – the ones who have been denied a voice and do what it takes to assert themselves.

Her writing is about losses and perhaps some wins along the way. It is about abandoned wives, and women who step out and live the way they want to. Leaving men, leaving lovers, and leaving parts of themselves as well. Whether it is Padmavati the Harlot who just wants to redeem herself in front of her God (while clearly shown as being abused by the priest), or a housewife whose husband loves another woman and all she wants is a little kitten and what happens thereafter, to the protagonist of The Sea Lounge who is at the mercy of her lover, each women is a world in herself, and Das doesn’t shy away from telling it as it is. She speaks of empowerment in her own way – of small choices made by her characters, and then it all overwhelms the reader, raining down like an avalanche of emotions.

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Abandon the Old in Tokyo by Yoshihiro Tatsumi

Title: Abandon the Old in Tokyo
Author: Yoshihiro Tatsumi 
Publisher: Drawn and Quarterly 
ISBN: 978-1770460775
Genre: Comics, Short Stories, Graphic Short Stories 
Pages: 224
Source: Publisher 
Rating: 4/5 

So, I have just finished reading, “Abandon the Old in Tokyo” by Yohishiro Tatsumi – the father of “gekiga” (he coined the term, and its literal meaning is dramatic pictures), aimed at adult audiences with more mature themes. This collection of comics is just that. Eight stories with themes dealing with existentialism or morbidity that stuns you.

These comics explore the murky side of humans, of the society we live in, and constantly through the use of allegory or metaphor bring that to fore. What I found most remarkable was how it was all achieved through the medium of minimal words in the comic panels, relying heavily only on the power of art.

The collection delves deep into the underbelly of Tokyo and the life of its residents in the 60s and the 70s. Most stories deal with economic hardship, loneliness, longing to better their circumstances, and estranged relationships. Everything is played out not-so-neatly – the twists and the turns are immense, and somehow to me they also seemed subtle. For instance, “Unpaid” for me was the darkest story of them all – of how a bankrupt businessman deals with life by connecting with a dog (you will understand the twist when you read it). Another favourite was the title story, about the relationship between a young man and his mother, and what happens when he wants to start living on his own.

Tatsumi’s characters are ordinary. They lead ordinary lives, and perhaps aspire for a little more than what life has offered. He symbolises or at least tries to symbolise the mass – the everyone, and how drama is played out in their lives, sometimes much against their wish. Even though the stories are set in a different time, and even written in a different time, they make their presence felt through crowds, manholes, buses, trains, restaurants, and the ordinary that still exist and will continue to. His art and the words that accompany them complement each other throughout. Your emotions are tested – since some of the vignettes aren’t easy to handle. Yet, you must read Tatsumi. Start with this. Get introduced to a softer version of the gekiga. Highly recommend it.

Essential Items: Stories from a Land in Lockdown by Udayan Mukherjee

Essential Items

Title: Essential Items: Stories from a Land in Lockdown Author: Udayan Mukherjee Publisher: Bloomsbury India ISBN: 978-9390252213
Genre: Literary Fiction, Short Stories
Pages: 260
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5 

So, this had to happen. Sooner or later. This is the second collection of short stories based around the lockdown, that I have read in the last seven months or so. And more such books will be published. There will be what will be called “Pandemic Literature” or “Covid Literature” and such and maybe some of it will be really good, but there will be some which will also not be very good. Essential Items by Udayan Mukherjee is a collection of stories falls in the former category.

It isn’t easy to relive the period of lockdown through these stories, I thought to myself as I picked up this collection. And once I thought that, I checked my privilege. I had everything – access to all of it – the Internet, food, shelter, running water, electricity, medicines, and emotional stability as well – to a very large extent. What had the lockdown taken from me, beside my freedom for a couple of months? What had it really taken from me when compared to the migrants, the poor, the displaced, and the ones who even lost their jobs? This pandemic was easy on me, and people like me. We, the privileged. And these stories hold a mirror to our society – touching on all the themes and people during the lockdown.

Stories of common people, and then not so common. How soon is it to start telling these stories of living in a time that was unheard of, unimaginable even? Is it too early? Maybe literature is the only way to make our peace with the times we are living in. Or any form of art for that matter. These stories will make you relate hard with what we have lived and seen others go through.

An elderly couple relies on a social worker for their essential items, and a moment of kindness turns it around on its head. A mountain climber strikes an unlikely friendship with a seven-year old boy in the hills, as the world is in lockdown. A domestic worker is grappling at straws with the situation at her home. Migrant workers travelling the distance, funeral workers trying to find some way of making money, an elderly man trying to make sense of his walking routine that has now abruptly ended, and many such lives in the pandemic that are brought to fore in this surreal and very sensitive collection of stories.

Udayan Mukherjee’s writing is stellar. He takes the ordinary, with a lot of dialogue, and makes it relevant to each reader, whether the experience is lived or not. We are truly all in it together, and yet each going through it differently, which is the core essence of these stories. His writing shines, bringing empathy to fore, with every turn of the page. We never thought we would be witness to something so singularly devastating in our lifetime, and yet here we are, and it is writers such as Mukherjee who know it best how to give words to what we feel.

Essential Items is the story of us, and yet not so. It is the story of people whose lives we will never care to know more about. Whose lives will sadly always be on the periphery of things, while we are cocooned and nestled safe. Essential Items is also an eye-opener to how it is, and what it shouldn’t be. Read it. Like I said, there will be more lockdown and Corona literature coming our way.