Glimpsing Mumbai

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!

Shantaram

Reading 933 pages of the ‘Shantaram‘ novel can be tedious especially when you do not have the time and are only reading 2 or 3 chapters per day. Nevertheless, ‘Shantaram‘ is an interesting novel. A novel that takes the reader through Mumbai’s ugliest places and the grim and the dust of the city to the paradise of Goa to the cold, brutal Afghan mountains.

Shantaram‘ I think is a partly true story of the author, Gregory David Roberts who escaped from an Australian prison. The novel speaks of his entry into the then Bombay and his journey through the city. The protagonist mingles with people in Leopold, is forced to stay in a slum, starts a clinic there and even comes to enjoy his life in the slum. He joins the mafia to earn cash, gets involved in gang war and the war in Afghanistan. He comes to love India and learns valuable lessons of life as well. The book ends on a hopeful message giving a grand message simultaneously.

Its a one of a kind novel where India in general and Mumbai in particular can be seen from a different perspective of a foreigner. India or Mumbai are neither degraded nor are they glorified unnecessarily but are portrayed objectively with plus and minus points. For once, it is good to see an author describing Mumbai’s slums, Arthur Road Jail etc. and not romantically babbling about only Marine Drive, Gateway or Taj. (I mean Mumbai is much more than those things).

On the other hand, the novel was a tad too long. Gregory Roberts could have easily shortened the story. There are a few loose ends like whether the author goes back to Australia or stays back in Mumbai and if he does, what does he do–be with the mafia or start something else. (Hopefully he will write a sequel soon with lesser pages though).

So I say that ‘Shantaram‘ is a good book but read it when you have all the time in the world. Reading the book slowly drags the story and takes the pace out of it.