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Books can have many different functions. They can moralise, instruct, take you to places and enable you to engage in vicarious travelling. But there are some books and stories that can just put smile on your face and simply please you for a long long time. Ruskin Bond books are something like that. They aren’t great works of literature (not were they written to be) but just the ordinariness of it can be (to use a oft used cliche) extraordinary! Plus they help in vicarious travelling. That, friends, can be the best book ever no?

So it is time to go pick up a Bond book incase you missed out on your yearly dose of travel this year!

Need help to choose?

Here is one with 21 short stories called: Time Stops at Shamli. It is a quick read, the kind that you can read on a realllly long train journey or if you simply want to get away from the mundane life as you trudge your way back from office to home everyday.

All the stories are imbued with the everyday stories of everyday, ordinary people that could be you or me which is why anyone can connect with them easily. In their quotidian existence, several facets and truisms of life are revealed. But no, Bond does not moralise but merely shape the stories and it is for us, the readers, to take away from it, gems embedded in them.

For instance, stories like “The Room of Many Colours” or “Most Beautiful,” talk about celebrating difference in a subtle manner almost imperceptible and who hasn’t known the pain yet beauty and courage of going/being against the norm and experiencing the different worlds.

It is nigh impossible to write a summary of each short story here without making the review look like a grocery list. But suffice to say that each story has its own charm, ingenuity, shrewdness and the hallmark of Bond: an omnipresent simplicity. So there’s a spooky ghost story to scare the daylights out of you, a story told from the perspective of the crows, about the poisonous schemes of relatives, about the importance of trees (told indirectly), about the ordeal of the migrants and the sense of loss and belonging (but narrated in less sentimentally than I have put it), a mystical transfiguration story with the perfect setting of the moon and the mountains and several more. The eponymous story again highlights the urge, temptation to do something against the grain, to go somewhere not known, to take a path less traveled (literally; you will see what I mean when you read it!).

So dig in into the many worlds of each story, relax and let a smile linger on.

For more Ruskin Bond reviews on this blog, click here.

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Crisp, clear and courageous is one way to describe Ismat Chughtai’s writing. Penguin Evergreens have brought out a collection of short stories by her in a slim volume titled: The Quilt: Stories by Ismat Chughtai. A member of the Progressive Writers’ Movement, Ismat was a bold Urdu writer whose stories were often a frank examination of women’s issues along with many several other topics such as Partition and the fight for independence. This collection includes a good range of her stories showing her deft writing skills and her eye for emotional detail. Much can be lost in translation but that will not deprive the reader from enjoying these short stories. The title story very cleverly implies and hints at homo eroticism. Quit India is surprisingly not the run of the mill story about freedom struggle but quite a sensitive portrayal of an Englishman in India and how he finally quits India. Here she uses that very slogan quite wittily to show the English soldier in a different light. The Mole and The Homemaker explore female sexuality. Mother-in-law shows the much stereotypes saas with all her whims and fancies sans the evil tag. Roots deals with the sad ache of Partition and how it tore apart communities.

With a collection of 10 interesting stories, this book is quite a good way to get a quick introduction to Chughtai’s work and gauge the vast range of the topics she dealt with. Its a quick and thoughtful read; one that will take you on a ride from the nightmarish fright of a child under the quilt to the frustrated and deranged painterly efforts of Choudhry; from the bylanes of the then Bombay to all across the seas to England. While on that journey, you can if you pay enough attention, just get a subtle glimpse of the orthodoxies that run women’s lives, of the pain, struggle and love of ordinary people.

To explore further,click here to check this useful website dedicated to her works.

No other person in Indian English literature is as closely associated and identified with the Partition as Sadat Hasan Manto. He has to his credits a novel, radio plays, essays, film scripts but he is synonymous with the Partition short stories he penned.

Penguin Books has recently come out with a collection of cheaply priced books-Penguin Evergreens. The few books in this collection are mostly (not necessarily) short stories by numerous Indian authors.  It also includes stories by Manto . The collection is titled-‘Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Sadat Hasan Manto, Translation by Khalid Hasan.’ It is quite commendable that Penguin has come out with easily affordable collection of short stories by renowned authors. This will hopefully make the Indian readers take up short stories by Indian writers.

There is a good variety of stories in this collection and are not confined only to the Partition. They deal with many subjects-Partition being one of them, human nature being another subject etc. His most famous stories like Toba Tek Singh, Colder Then Ice, The Dog Of Titwal etc., are included in this collection. Others may not be well known but are equally well written and give a startling glimpse into tender human moments or into the twisted human mind. The great advantage of short stories is that it can capture the boldest, the most essential and deliver it with a bang in a few words which immediately hits the reader. This advantage Manto exploited thoroughly to make his point to the readers. Toba Tek Singh is a brilliant example of how Manto comments on the issues of nationality and the futility of constructing them arbitrarily. Odour captures Randhir’s wistful reminiscences of a girl he met on a rainy day and how the peculiar odour she exuded completely enchanted him and how he searches for that in his bride. The Gift borders on the comic as it narrates the story of Shankar and how he cleverly dupes two prostitutes by giving them gifts that belonged to each other. Bitter Harvest is a poignant story of the manner in which hatred and violence can consume the best of friends leaving only animals raging with vengeance. A Woman For All Seasons is about the vagaries of fame and fate from the point of view of an actress. There are in all fifteen stories that will surely give you a fleeting glimpse of a range of societal mores and characters. These stories depict how Manto wrote about all subjects, all sorts of people-whether the hight, middle, low class etc. There shines an honesty and an ache for humanity in his stories. His approach to writing his not selective as he wrote about everything under the sun be it taboo subjects like sex, prostitution or sensitive topics like the Partition.

This Penguin Evergreen is sure to delight everyone. What may not be delightful is the simplistic translation by Khalid Hasan. It is too banal and often fails to capture the mood and feel of the story with the same bitterness that Manto suffuses them with. The only stories that felt like a good translation were Odour and The Dog Of Titwal. Others had something or the other lacking in them. They didn’t make you sit up and feel shocked. They somehow lulled you into numbness which is not a reaction to be elicited when reading a Manto story. The latter always makes you think and imposes on you a new idea, a new viewpoint that you are compelled to ponder over. This translation fails to do that. The reader will only be able to take a momentary pleasure from them and not a sustained, lingering and fresh perspective. I don’t have any other recommendations to read other translations as I have forgotten the translators’ names of whatever few stories I have read in different collections.  Recently in 2012 a collection, ‘Manto: Selected Short Stories’ was released and it is translated by Aatish Taseer. How good it is is yet to be ascertained. But it is worth giving it a shot.

Despite the translation flaws in ‘Toba Tek Singh: Stories by Sadat Hasan Manto’, it is worth picking it up (and not just because it’s cheap) as it will acquaint any reader with some of Manto’s works and his style of writing. Hopefully, this book will generate more interest in Manto’s writings.

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!

Indian Railways are an important part of our country’s landscape, a necessity that moves life, that helps travelling. Yet, we hardly have many stories on them or about them or them figuring prominently in a novel/story. Most kids know about the famous, ‘Railway Children,’ by Edith Nesbit but Indian railway stories are hard to come by.

Taken from penguinbooksindia.com

I recently came across, a wonderful collection of short stories about Indian railways titled, ‘The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories,’ edited by Ruskin Bond. I was delighted to read it as trains are an everyday part of my life.

The Penguin Book of Indian Railway Stories,’ is divided into two sections:

I) Stories Before Independence

II) Stories after Independence.

The book is fabulous from start to the end. Even the short poem,’ A Traveller’s Tale’ by A.G. Shirreff (1917) right at the beginning as well as the beautiful introduction written by Ruskin Bond helps to draw the reader into the right mood so she/he can plunge into the depths of each carefully chosen short story.

Through the 18 stories, we can sense the transition of the Indian railways from during the British period to after India’s independence. Some of the stories are extracts like R. K . Laxman’s ‘Railway Reverie’ or Khushwant Singh’s ‘Mano Majra Station.’ Some are stand alone stories. Nonetheless, all of them are equally mesmerising and enjoyable and some even have a slight mysterious element. Some brilliantly capture the railway’s ubiquitous presence and charm and its importance.

I will refrain from elaborating on all the 18 stories mostly because it will be too tedious and a pain to all reading the review. But I do want to mention that my favourites are ‘Cherry Choo-Choo’ by Victor Banerjee and ‘Barin Bhowmik’s Ailment’ by Satyajit Ray. The former is a nostalgic story of a defunct train called locally as ‘Cherry Choo Choo’ which was an admired and much loved train during its lifetime. The latter story is a brilliant story of a unique coincidence occurring in a train carriage. There are a few stories that are very technical and only those who are knowledgeable about railway jargon may understand  it better. There are few stories, because they are written in the pre-independence era, have certain racial aspects which are disconcerting yet if one overlooks that, then the story turns to a good one.

All in all, this collection is a must read. Even though it does not talk of local trains of Mumbai, it reminds us of how railways helped this mighty nation to develop and how trains have a special place in our hearts and the collection of the short stories helps to ignite that love in our heart’s special for trains. The book is a great read and for best results, it is best to read it while travelling in a train. It just helps to add to the atmosphere, to the setting and the mood of each story.

Happy journey and happy reading!

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.

 

For me, Indian Fiction is irresistible and Jhumpa Lahiri’s writing draws me, attracts me to read her novels. I had read ‘Namesake’ which was an excellent book with a rare story of Indian immigrants in America. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is pretty much written on the same lines with the only exception that it is not a novel but a collection of short stories. Its worth spending your time and money over and its a really wonderful read.

Taken from amazon.com

The book is divided into 2 parts with Part One having 5 short stories about Indian immigrants of different age, gender, generation and they are all set all over the U.S. While Part Two is a short immigrant love story of Hema and Kaushik.

In Part One, the first story ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is about a husband and his daughter coping with the wife/mother’s death and how her death allows him to travel while the daughter worries about taking care of her father. In the second story, ‘Hell-Heaven’, a married woman falls in love with a younger man who does not reciprocate this love and instead marries an American. ‘A Choice Of  Accommodation’, the third story narrates the loss of love between a married Indian-American couple and how they regain that love. The fourth one, ‘Only Goodness’ is a story of a sister trying to protect her brother from alcoholism yet shunning him away at the same time because of his addiction. It gives a curious look at brother-sister relationship. The last story,’Nobody’s Business’  is a singular story of an Indian woman living as a roommate  with Americans who is in love with an Egyptian. Part Two has three chapters which narrate a singular love story that develops between Hema and Kaushik over the years yet ends in tragedy.

The first thing that hits the reader in the face is that these stories do not have a rosy picture. There is a fragmented despair and utter sadness and even isolation and depression that pervades each story. They do not have a single aspect of the American Dream. There is conflict in each story, a loss of identity, a strong sense of disillusionment or even anger. ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ provides harsh glimpses into the immigrant’s world which is unexpected as the majority of readers would expect a happy, better life in America than in India. Materially, the families are well off in each story but never emotionally or spiritually.

Although ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ is a collection of short stories, the characters really come alive in each of them. Jhumpa Lahiri’s fine writing brings out nuances, peculiar qualities, different characteristics that makes the reader easily form a good picture of the characters in their mind(just like in ‘Family Matters’ by Rohinton Mistry). Her writing is undoubtedly superb and elegant. It effortlessly captures the essence of Indian immigrant life in America (just like it did in the ‘Namesake’) Its a definite must read for all lovers of Indian fiction writing and for all those who love literature.

One warning for all who want to pick up the book to read: ‘Unaccustomed Earth’ requires a great deal of concentration and it is not our typical kind of ‘happy’ book, so for those who want to peruse only for fun and past time, please don’t bother to read ‘Unaccustomed Earth’. For others who would love to venture beyond the usual, stereotypical books, might find this book just right!

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