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August 21, 2011

Page: 20/42

Home > 2011 Issues > August 21, 2011

A literary itinerary of India
By Tej N Dhar
India: A Traveller’s Literary Companion, Chandrahas Choudhury, Harper Collins, Pp 256 (HB), Rs 399.00

INDIA consists of short stories that, according to its editor, represent the country’s “geographical base” and provide the reader a sense of its varied landscape, social formations and practices, and lifestyles. But the stories vary considerably in the manner in which they incorporate the local, the specific, and the cultural aspects of the regions of their provenance.

Hyder’s story takes us through the life of its protagonist into recognisable cities and towns of the subcontinent, where we meet men and women from different communities in familiar social settings, till she marries Vaqar Sahib. In Mamang Dai’s story a young woman, after losing her first love, marries another person and decides that “together, they would raise a family, guard their land, and live among their people observing the ancient customs of their clan.”

Renu’s “Panchlight” provides an insight into the highly complex world of caste, in which a person is welcomed back in the community only because he saves their honour. In “Dots and Lines” we get a heartwarming story of two young men who strike an intimate relationship during their train journey, which also takes us into their crowded lives back home. “In the Moonlight” dramatises the revolt of a young woman against restrictions on her marital freedom. Senapati’s “Asura Pond” provides the setting for a social scene so well known in rural India, of women coming together to the village pond to perform different tasks, talking about issues current and remote, and mixing the human and the divine. Nazir Mansuri’s “The Whale” describes forcefully the turbulent lives of the fishermen of his area and the intense passion of their women. “Canvasser Krishanlal” combines deft characterisation with a romp through a rich landscape of villages and cities.

Rushdie’s “The Prophet’s Hair,” like some other stories, does not provide the same kind of illumination, though it is based on the actual incident of the loss of the Prophet’s hair from the shrine of Hazratbal, and is located in Srinagar. It has the shape of a monstrous fable that culminates in an explosive situation, in which most of its characters die.

All the stories in the volume are quite interesting and well written, but not all of them suit the proposed design of the volume in the same measure.

(Harper Collins, A-53, Sector 57, Noida, Uttar Pradesh)

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