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Wistful, melancholic, historical and isolated stories that cherish hope at times or relinquish  it completely is what characterizes the 20 selected short stories of Keki Daruwalla’s magnificent new book titled, ‘Love Across The Salt Desert.’ These 20 short stories have no thematic similarities as they portray a wide range of characters and surroundings from a disconcerted British officer during Quit India movement to the religious, intellectual and insightful Parsee father, from a sensationalist journalist to a deceitful doctor, from a loving granddaughter to a jilted yet content wife etc and from Rann of Kutch to the lofty, ethereal mountains of Niti valley, from the cultured pre-independence to the sleepy Gorakhpur, from the ancient India of Porous to the ancient Aegean regions etc.

Yet despite this disparity, each story has a perfect Aristotelian beginning, middle and end. Each story has ordinary humans (and even animals at times) at its core, dealing with their worries, hopes and problems, which may seem purely mundane but Daruwalla imbues than with a soft magnitude that touches the chord of every reader’s heart. This makes the insignificant details of daily life come alive and when told while focusing on only one issue, one hope, one worry, they achieve an importance that everyone can identify with. Thus we see in ‘the jahangir syndrome’, Kunwar Tejbhan Singh moving out of Lucknow and reflecting on the feudal system, the irony of a granddaughter not being there when her grandmother passes away in the story, ‘going’, the tender relationship between a mute and a cook who finds the former’s mimes fascinating in the ‘retired panther’, the warm, delicate, young love of Fatima and Najab across the bristling desert of the Kutch in the title story and many such more stories that delight the readers with its lucidity and clarity of places, insights, people and emotions.

From one story to another, the reader is treated to new images of India whether of the present, the recent past or its ancient past. The stories’ charm lies in the characterization of Indians( although there are exceptions) across all age groups, historical times, class and gender that underline their idiosyncrasies that proffer more information on Indian people than any erudite book could ever do.

‘Love Across The Salt Desert’ is a captivating and engaging collection of short stories that asserts Daruwalla’s status as a compelling short story writer. It is a book highly recommended that won’t be a waste of time or money but rather a journey all across India and its many moods and the world.

Short stories are usually good,easy read proffering an anecdote,a glimpse into someone’s life, drawing you in that story and leaving you satisfied of having dabbled in their life. ‘Window Seat‘ by Janhavi Acharekar is a collection of short stories that have the same effect on the reader. There are 30 short stories-each revealing a different side of human nature, emotions, of India, of Mumbai and each is well crafted, well written and always ending with a concrete resolution-absent in many other short stories that often mar the story’s charm. But not Acharekar-she is one brilliant writer, way better than the popular Chetan Bhagat or any other IIT/IIM students turned writers we see today in India.

Taken from amazon.com

Each of her short story explores a new idea, divulges the good, the bad and the ugly of Mumbai city. And none are cliched. They are simple, realistic, displaying the daily lives of many common folks of the city-their struggles, their fights, their dreams, their feelings, their worries, their happiness-almost everything under the sun. It is this portrayal of the daily, everyday, mundane aspect of people’s lives polished with Acharekar’s fine, creative imagination, that makes each story is distinctive and unique. The readers will connect to atleast one short story because Janhavi Acharekar covers everything-from the slum life, to the middle class worries to the high class celebrity to the party life-everything that together comprises the reader’s perception of Mumbai.

The stories have varied themes, ranging from a couple searching for the perfect flat/home in Mumbai, a freedom fighter’s popularity in his Girgaum neighbourhood, a unique event at Mumbai Central Station, the cause of a riot, a teacher’s wistful memories of her old school days, a cyberspace love relationship, an art preview, four women’s lives in Mumbai’s lifeline-the local train and so many more.  Giving a full detailed description of each story would kill the joy of reading it on one’s own.

Now you might ask, why would one want to read about the daily life of Mumbaikars? Simply because, one can connect with them and also because, the writer plainly, economically, straightforwardly puts her story across, accessing our hearts and moving us too!

The book, ‘Window Seat‘  is divided into 2 parts. While the first part has unconnected stories, the second part is further subdivided into 3 parts and the stories in each of the 3 parts are connected to each other in terms of their setting and characters and not necessarily continuity.

There are a few disheartening aspects of the book as well. Firstly, some stories go back in time, see Mumbai nostalgically and not con temporarily which is good in a few stories but not always. Also, some stories are not even set in the 21st century. They have an old world charm to it which again is not necessarily a bad thing but a more contemporary setting would do better with many newcomers to the city and other too. Besides there are far too many Mumbai novels that nostalgically always stay in a bygone Mumbai that will definitely never come back again. So why bother writing pages and pages if so much has already been written about it? Secondly, some stories tilt only towards South Mumbai not bothering to explore North and Navi Mumbai. Thirdly,the title, ‘Window Seat‘ is also misleading suggesting that the book has stories set in the Mumbai locals, when in fact there are myriad settings to each story.

Besides those few points, ‘Window Seat‘ is a marvellous novel the keeps you wanting for more. Acharekar’s lucid writing, her non-romanticized notions of Mumbai and her brilliant story telling ability make the book worth reading it. Wish she writes more such books and hopes she becomes more popular and widely read because a good writer like her definitely deserves it!

Here’s a toast to good contemporary Indian English writing!

I always wanted to read Ruskin Bond books when I was in school. My mother always urged me to buy them particularly the Rusty series. However, somehow, I never got the time, being busy with Enid Blyton, Harry Potter, Nancy Drew, a few children’s classics, Hardy Boys and Agatha Christie, to actually peruse his novels except a few short stories taught as part of the syllabus. Even when I entered college, a boy in class discussed how immensely he loved the simplicity of Bond’s stories and language. That really encouraged me to pick up his books but I was still too engrossed in Harry Potter, Agatha Christie and Sidney Sheldon.

Taken from goodreads.com

Now when I am finally 19 years old, I issued a Ruskin Bond book,’Rain In The Mountains-Notes From The Himalayas‘ from the library, read it silently and thoroughly enjoyed  it. My fears of the book being too kiddish for my tastes were dispelled just as I began reading the prologue. Moreover, I understood what that boy in my class meant when he said that Bond’s stories and language is simple.

I cannot think of any other word except-BEAUTIFUL-to describe this novella. Let me clarify that this isn’t really a storybook, but rather a collection of short stories, poems, journal notes, essays etc. that Bond penned. Thus it is not only beautiful but also very personal at the same time.

All the writings in this books magnify and vividly describe all things natural that surrounds Bond’s home in Mussoorie. All his experiences are a lengthy ode to the beauty of the Himalayas. Such is the power that when I used to read the book in the train, I would forget the city air, the rants, the loud talk and laughter of the women in the compartment and be transported to an ethereal place up in the Himalayas. I would be going on trek on a glacier with Bond, admiring a whistling thrush, the majestic deodars, imagining fairies on Pari Tibba, meeting the villagers, meeting Prem and his family rather than traveling in a dusty, stinky, hot local train of Mumbai.

His writing style is very simplistic, his use of language and words is such that they are not only comprehensible to children and adults alike but also effortlessly convey Bond’s experiences and the mountain’s fresh air. They are not childish but far from it. His poems are not masterpieces, barely have a rhyme scheme but paint a vivid picture of nature in all its glory nonetheless.

His short stories, notes, articles etc. make us-urban people-come in touch with two things we don’t seem to revere: nature and people. All the writings in the book describe the supreme delight Bond feels by observing or sensing the simplest of all things. Like a ladybird, a walnut tree, the discovery of a new stream, a messy garden, the rains, an old lama,a school boy, a window, a postman,a sea shell, a bank manager, a praying mantis etc.-things we hardly stop to think about, things we do not take a pleasure in because we are too busy deriving pleasure from fickle, material things, like car, bike, jewelry etc.

The book thus rekindles a love for nature, of people. It creates a serenely happy feeling yet when Bond mentions that these gems of natural beauties are being destroyed, a sad, forlorn feeling creeps up. This book should be read by all heartless corporations, mining companies, government officials who fail to see the throbbing of life in nature, who will swiftly destroy all beautiful, natural wonders for their own selfish gains without realizing the damage they have done, the loss they have created.

 

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