Tag Archives: Short Story Collections

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.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout. Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards. Title story translated by Charis Bredin.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories by Nayrouz Qarmout Title: The Sea Cloak & Other Stories
Author: Nayrouz Qarmout
Translated from the Arabic by Perween Richards
Title story translated by Charis Bredin
Publisher: Comma Press
ISBN: 9781905583782
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 106
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Every book makes you want to know more about the world around us, the spaces we inhabit, and why are people the way they are. At least, well-written books make you want to do that. To research, to understand, and to view the story/stories from different perspectives. “The Sea Cloak & Other Stories” did that for me. The first thing I did in the process of reading this slim collection, was to not read it. Instead, I logged onto YouTube and watched a ten-minute video on the Israel-Palestine conflict (which I have tagged here, right at the end) to comprehend what I was getting into. This comprehension was purely from the view of empathy – to understand their lives as depicted in the stories and not be oblivious to the history of the writer.

Nayrouz Qarmout is a Palestinian author, and a women’s rights campaigner, living at the Gaza Strip. The stories in this book range from taking place in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and also one on the Gaza Strip. I was overwhelmed reading every story from this collection. There was this tug at my heart, and this happened without judgement or taking sides.

Every story in this collection is not without conflict, of course, but at the heart of every conflict is just human emotion coming to fore – whether it is greed for land, the desperation to do better (Pen and Notebook, which is one of my favourite stories from the collection), or revenge (the story Our Milk certainly felt like that). Qarmout writes with such ease – the brutality of it all, without flinching (I think), making the reader uncomfortable, and forcing the reader to know more, ask more, and discover for themselves, which to me every well-written book should do.

As I read every story, turning page after page, I was taken in by what it means to be a Palestinian today. What does conflict mean to them? What do the words survival and freedom communicate? Do they say anything at all? When does history lose its significance? When do long-standing battles over land come to an end, so people can live without fear?

The writing of The Sea Cloak & Other Stories comes from such a personal space – it reflects on every page and through every story. The footnotes help in further understanding the conflict and how we get by in such times. For instance, the story “14 June” touches on the need of a mother to keep her daughters safe, at the cost of perhaps giving a part of herself. The stories hit you hard as they must. The translation by Perween Richards is as evocative as the original – the smells, sounds, objects come to life and become characters of the story – whether a glass of milk in “Our Milk” or lilies and what they mean in “White Lilies”. The title story translated by Charis Bredin holds up as a great start to this collection.

The Sea Cloak & Other Stories will stay with me for a long time. It will prompt me to know more, to read more, to watch more, and to understand more about the Israel-Palestine conflict. But more than that it has taught me to see different sides of the story, various stories that are lived, and the ones that also go unheard.

Links: 

And here is a link to Reading List of Palestinian Prose: 

https://electricliterature.com/a-reading-list-of-palestinian-prose/

 

In Appreciation of Saunders

george-saunders

Ever since I have read George Saunders I have been in awe of his writing. I may not have enjoyed Lincoln in the Bardo the way I thought I would, but that’s hardly of concern when it comes to appreciating Saunders’ works. I think the beauty of Saunders beside the writing, is his capacity to create characters that are regular – they are flawed, broken, and perhaps have no capacity to be extraordinary and yet strangely enough they are.

Also, might I add the skill with which he writes or rather crafts a story. After Munro, if there is any other short-story writer I truly admire, it is him. Whether it is the idea of the fantastical merging with everyday living, or just the irony of getting through the day, Saunders literally saves a reading-slump-kind-of-day. You just have to read any short story written by him and it is worth it – every single word and every sentence.

Pastoralia was introduced to me by a friend and I cannot thank the friend enough. This collection of short-stories embodies the twisted, the lonely, and the post-modern version of American – served hot and ready to be slaughtered. Whether he talks about a couple living in a theme-park, where speaking is an offence (rings a bell given the times we live in?), or whether he is speaking of a male exotic dancer and his family, Saunders shows us a world that is funny and yet so scary, so familiar and strange, but above-all, so authentic and graceful in its prose.

Pastoralia

I must speak of The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil here. This slim book is literally a tour-de-force (I know this word is way overused, however, I can’t help but use it for this one). This is the book about power-hungry, and demagogic Phil (again can’t help but relate it to the times we live in) and how his reign begins as people from one nation run into another for asylum.

Phil

Saunders has always sort of been prophetic when it comes to his stories, and whatever he chooses to write about really. Whether it is Tenth of December or In Persuasion Nation, both fantastic short-story collections, Saunders is on the top of his game, never missing a beat. His people are lost, maybe not even seeking redemption – all they want is their stories to be told, voices to be heard, and sometimes remain in the shadows battling their demons.

Tenth of December

The Brain-Dead Megaphone is perhaps one of the best collection of essays I have read in a long time. It is his first collection of essays and has trained himself to look at the real – ridden with a strangeness – in the political and cultural milieu. I loved the literary pieces in this book – Saunders’ view on Mark Twain, Vonnegut, and Barthelme – every essay is on point and showcases all the skewed characters chosen by the author.

Megaphone

This, I think in a very brief manner encapsulates his body of work that I have enjoyed and loved over the years. He is one writer that never disappoints and constantly delivers, no matter what. Read him and allow yourself to be taken in by his eccentric, mad, most illuminating prose.