Divya Dubey reviews Rochelle Potkar’s Bombay Hangovers (Vishwakarma Publications, 2021) and shares how these stories paint a very real, almost tangible world.
Bombay Hangovers is a collection of sixteen short stories set in various parts of Bombay (with the exception of an instance of two in Goa), by the much-acclaimed poet and writer, Rochelle Potkar. They’re different in that some of them cover the lives of the protagonists over decades, or even portray a lifetime, in a few simple pages. They’re precise, concise, and well-told. Yet, they are the kind of tales that may not appeal to short-story readers of every kind, despite the skillful writing.
While they speak well to the reader’s intellect with their flawless craft, they don’t quite have the kind of emotional appeal one looks for to establish a sense of connect with a book. In that sense, to some extent, they’re reminiscent of the works by Indrajit Hazra.
The first story, ‘The Arithmetic of Breasts’ is perhaps the best and most engaging in the entire collection. In a recent article called ‘Breast or Tooth’ in Granta Magazine (May 18, 2021), Tishani Doshi explains the significance of the female breast in India over the ages: ‘The breast in India is one of the most eroticized and policed body parts. From 8,000-year-old Harappan terracotta mothers with their suckling infants to Bollywood starlets cavorting under waterfalls with wet saris, the breast has been central to the idea of sex, maternity, nourishment, and power.’
It is true – considering the role breasts have always played in Indian history and literature. Think of the Breast Tax imposed on lower-caste women in Kerala until 1924. Remember how the politics have been captured in Breast Stories by Mahashweta Devi (1997), where the female breast becomes a metaphor for exploitation and social injustices. Tishani’s article goes on to say: ‘The idea of a neutral breast in India? A breast just casually hanging around, being a functional exocrine gland, enjoying the sun? Impossible.’ True yet again.