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Book Review: The Girl who Ran Away in a Washing Machine by Anu Kumar

By Rajat Chaudhuri


Short stories? Who writes short stories these days? Aren’t we reminded time and again that publishers are no more interested in this form? But then, isn’t the novel too going to give up its ghost in a couple of hours as grey haired Cassandras predict with the regularity of automatons? Aren’t we advised that narrative nonfiction and its close cousin the diary or even the memoir, is the go-to form for the author who doesn’t want to be put on an artificial respirator? And just when this cumulonimbus of bad news bears down upon you, the fiction author (or the reviewer) you chance upon a book which simply says the “genre” is in safe hands and that this oldest of storytelling arts still has a lot to offer.

The Girl Who Ran Away in a Washing Machine and Other Stories is a collection of stories by Anu Kumar, published by Kitaab. The stories in this slim volume travel the distance from tony upper class neighbourhoods of Singapore to back of beyond villages of India, from futuristic urban settings with robot newsreaders to the ruins of the Indus Valley civilisation, taking the reader on a journey of discoveries that she will cherish for long. But what is definitely the strength of this book is the range of subjects and themes in which Kumar engages, without overburdening her audience.

Here you will find a wonderful story of love lost and found, a magical adventure with a ghost among the ruins of an ancient civilisation, a couple of tales where you chance upon men with weird eyebrows, a sprinkling of magic everywhere, a dash of the absurd sometimes and a wink and a nod towards science fiction. Elsewhere social evils like dowry, corruption, religious intolerance or the crisis of farmer suicides are spun into the narrative with an expert hand, imbuing those tales with a sense of urgency, without being stilted or preachy.

In the eponymous story set in rural Punjab, we meet Neha, newly married to Manjit, finding solace and a hiding place from her in-laws inside the symbolic space of a washing machine that was part of her dowry. “Washing Machine” and indeed a few other stories have an alluring quality that gives the reader the sense of drifting on a calm current as she gets engrossed by the storytelling. Delectable prose coupled with a narrative that slowly circles inwards, curling towards the beating heart of the plot, perhaps imparts this quality to Kumar’s stories. But this is not to say that there are no surprises here, no spindrift or maelstrom, no intrusions of the fantastic or the absurd. In fact, surprises are aplenty and some of these stories wear the edginess on their sleeves.

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Excerpts: One Thousand Days in a Refrigerator by Manoj Kumar Panda


Sentenced to a Honeymoon

Nachiketa was an odd sort of a fellow, an eccentric. Sleeping inside a mosquito-net made him uneasy. A dip in water suffocated him. The smell of incense made him feel as if he was trapped in fragrant mist. He felt claustrophobic in a closed bathroom. He would get upset if the doors of his study were left open. His wife’s company for more than a certain number of hours agitated him. Writing letters to loved ones puzzled him. One night, Nachiketa disappeared. When his wife Deepa woke in the morning she found his bed empty. The door was wide open, as were the windows. Perhaps he has gone for his morning walk, she thought, and did not pay his absence more heed. When he did not return at his usual time she thought he must be with a friend, but felt a slight uneasiness, and a few more hours passed.

Nachiketa did not show up.

As the hours went by, the futile waiting dissolved into a chaos of hope, doubt, debate, solace, solicitousness, assurance and panic. By evening there was frantic despair, fear, tears, hunger and thirst, and the blaring of at least a hundred cellphones.

Nachiketa had left his cellphone behind and his ringtone was that of a mewing kitten. The kitten mewed, remained silent for a while, and began mewing again. This went on for five days until the cellphone battery discharged.

Nachiketa’s disappearance remained shrouded in mystery. Somebody said that Nachiketa had bought thirty envelopes from the post office the previous day. All the thirty envelopes will be posted to one address, one on each day, he had said. They kept guessing and looking for the possible address Nachiketa intended to send the letters to, but without any success.

It took two days for Nachiketa’s wife to find Tooty’s phone number. (Tooty was one of Nachiketa’s former flames.) Deepa and Tooty had fought bitterly over Nachiketa years earlier. But Deepa was now compelled to call Tooty and inquire about Nachiketa’s whereabouts. However, Tooty was genuinely surprised to learn that Nachiketa was missing. She sounded extremely humble and shy yet reasonably convincing when she told Deepa that she had no idea where Nachiketa was. Deepa was, however, not completely convinced. Some of her friends and relatives wanted to know who this Tooty was, but tight-lipped taciturnity was the only reply they received from Deepa.

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Santokh Singh Dhir’s delightful short stories are tinged with music and humour

By Moazzam Sheikh

Santokh Singh Dhir’s Merian Saras Kahaniyan is a delightful little book. Through the phrase ‘a delightful little book’, I mean to suggest that the book’s strongest point is its language, which is tinged with music and humour. The rustic and rooted Punjabi of the book belongs to a part of Punjab that the author knows well, where the toll of standardisation or tyranny of Hindi/Urdu has been kept at bay.

At the beginning of the book, Dhir tells the reader that the selected stories in the book are one-third of his total output. It would have helped if the indefatigable Maqsood Saqib, the publisher, had also provided an introduction of Dhir, to place him within the context of modern Punjabi literature, along with a list of his entire corpus.

By and large, all the stories delight the reader not just in encountering Dhir’s thoughts and insights but also when his various characters engage in conversations. To both the initiated and otherwise, comprehending what is written on the paper could be a challenge. But that’s exactly what is pleasurable about his work. Read more

Source: The News on Sunday

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Need to build an ecosystem to teach translated Indian literature in universities: Arunava Sinha 


Arunava Sinha’s ‘The Greatest Bengali Stories Ever Told’ comes with a caveat. In his introduction, he writes that the short stories in this collection have been chosen not according to literary canons or eras or any other form of “critical sieving”, but simply because these are stories that have loomed large in his life, and that he loves. Translated into English over a period of five years, the stories are ordered chronologically from Tagore’s ‘The Kabuliwala’ to Amar Mitra’s ‘Air and Water’ , and Sinha believes they act as a map, allowing a younger generation to rediscover and reconnect with a legacy of reading. We spoke about the continuance of the Bengali short story, about melancholy and being unambitious.

Excerpts from an interview:

You say you chose these stories because there’s a quality that haunts the characters, a sense of something missing. Why is this appealing to you?

I probably need to psychoanalyse myself for that but it resonates with something within me. It’s a very personal response but in some ways anybody who’s involved with writing, whether it’s your own work or translations, I think there’s always a seeking. I’m not trying to over-intellectualise it, but there’s always something out of your reach, and then there are certain aspects of my life that fit in with this whole business of looking and not finding. Read more

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New Release: Penguin Books India to release Tanuja Chandra’s ‘Tales from Uttar Pradesh’


Penguin Books India has acquired a collection of stories from Uttar Pradesh, authored by Tanuja Chandra. The book ‘Tales from Uttar Pradesh’ will be published in March 2017.

The book is a collection of stories that are a mix of fact and fiction, action and emotion, drama and passion.

These strange, funny, intriguing, dramatic tales have travelled down the generations to the author in the great, oral tradition of the Indian culture.

“Honestly, I’ve wanted to write this book of stories for a long time. I heard them from my parents, mausis, buas and chachas when I was a kid. They stayed with me over the years but I never felt quite ready to put words down on paper. The kind of affectionate gaze that comes with time was needed perhaps,” said writer- director Tanuja Chandra, “And now, I’m just grateful that I’ve had this opportunity because it would have been a shame if these unique, absurd and memorable characters were lost in time. I feel fortunate enough to be able to record these tales but having a publisher like Penguin Random House, a name one has seen on one’s book shelf since childhood – well, that’s just plain fantastic. This has been a life-goal and I’m elated to bring these stories to readers.”

The bizarre chronicle of a lazy daughter-in-law, the legend of the court clerk who loved eating chaat, a haunting qissa of two cousins who were inseparable in death, the tragic love story of a blind teacher who fell in love with a neighbour with large, beautiful eyes, and other wild tales from Bareilly, Lucknow, Hapur, Badaun, Sapnawat, Pilibhit, and other places big and small in that fascinating part of India called Uttar Pradesh, that have stayed alive for decades, some even for a century.

About the Author:

After receiving a B.A. degree in English Literature in Mumbai, Tanuja Chandra completed a Master of Fine Arts degree in Film Direction and Writing in the U.S.A. She returned to India and directed television shows, after which, she co-wrote screenplay and dialogue for Mahesh Bhatt’s films, Zakhm and Tamanna, and co-wrote Yash Chopra’s Dil Toh Pagal Hai.

She began independent film direction in 1998 with Dushman (starring Kajol, Sanjay Dutt), Sangharsh (starring Akshay Kumar, Preity Zinta),Sur, Zindaggi Rocks, and the English language film, Hope and A Little Sugar, among others. Several of her films have received awards in different categories and her English film received recognition in international film festivals.

Tanuja’s new directorial venture, starring Irrfan Khan, is a fun, romantic travelogue set in Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Sikkim, and will be released in early 2017. And she has been working on a television show which will go into production early next year.


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Short Story: The Veil

By Manu Mahajan

The girl would have been more beautiful had she not been sobbing for breath. She was attractive enough, though. Maybe it was the fear in her eyes that added to her vitality.

He had slept badly as usual. It had been almost sixty years since he had slept more than an hour at a time anyway. The nightmares tired themselves out after a few hours and faded when he awoke, finally and in the dark, heart pounding and eyes wide in fear and rage. He was used to this, so he had waited a few minutes as the images in front of his bloodshot eyes dimmed, as the veil lifted, as the other girl’s screams receded into memory again. His sister. “Prah ji, mainoo bachaa lo!”

Brother, save me.

Outskirts of Lahore, summer of 1947. The colonial partition of India, deliberately hasty and calculatedly inept. Sounds of gunfire and mobs in the night, threats in the morning. Hindus and Sikhs used, for months, of seeing everything through a veil of fear. And hope, until it ran out the night the mob came banging on the door. Until the night the women, with dead accusatory eyes burning the souls of their dying men forever, jumped into wells to deny the attackers access to their living bodies. Until he escaped and ran, just one more boy joining the largest mass migration in human history, each refugee carrying a veil of hate and despair that would shadow their eyes for the rest of their lives.

“Prah ji, mainoo bachaa lo!”

This other girl, today, fifty five years later, had just appeared out of nowhere. She wasn’t there when he opened the door looking for the milk that wasn’t there in this suburb of Ahmedabad, and then there she was, suddenly, like a ghost in a white salwar kameez and a dupatta covering her face, a veil, an Indian hijaab.

“Sardarji, mujhe bacha lo, please?”

Ahmedabad, beginning of March, 2002.  The mob had set the train carrying mainly Hindus alight three days ago at Godhra, a hundred and forty kilometers away. Muslims were blamed. Riots across many areas of the city, Muslims were being raped and butchered; the bellies of pregnant women were being speared, people were being set alight. Hindu mobs roamed the streets or barged into houses looking for the next Muslim, blood in their eyes as the veil of civilisation slipped once again. But unlike in 1947, the victims had nowhere to run to, the old man had thought to himself. Except, apparently, this girl, who had run, uselessly, to the wrong old man. 

“Sardarji, mujhe bacha lo, please?”

Crimson mist in his eyes. At last. Revenge at last, after so many years. “Kaun hai tu?” he asked. Who are you?  And then, quickly, he opened the door wide, a reflex invitation made before she- or he- changed their minds. Momentary hesitation and then she darted in like a bird escaping into its cage.

He shut and bolted the door.

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Kitaab review of Flash Fiction International

by Vasika Udurawane

Flash Fiction International:
Very Short Stories from Around the World 

Flash Fiction International pbk mech.inddJames Thomas (Editor)Robert Shapard (Editor)Christopher Merrill (Editor)

W W Norton & Company (Paperback)

April 2015 (288 pp)

The joy of reading an anthology is that one never knows what to expect. I certainly did not know what to expect when I received a copy of Flash Fiction International, but I ended up enjoying every minute of it.

The book has stories by eighty-six great writers from around the world, one story per writer. I had no clue what flash fiction was at first. However when I read through this wonderful selection of stories and authors I began to appreciate the beauty of the short story in what I take to be its purest and most stripped-to-basics form. Plenty of praise goes out to the editing team for making this selection.

For a start, the title of the book is strong and direct, as are the individual story captions. Continue reading

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Not so tall tales: David Davidar on ‘A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces’

David Davidar on his fascination with short stories and how he put together A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces: The Hindu

Apart from being a well-known publisher, David Davidar is also a novelist, editor and anthologist. He has been an attentive reader of Indian fiction from the time he was a teenager. His latest anthology, A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces, has 39 short stories from across Indian fiction selected by Davidar. From Khushwant Singh, Munshi Premchand, Chugtai and Vaikom Muhammed Basheer and Ruskin Bond to new voices like Shahnaz Bashir and Kanishk Tharoor, the volume covers a spectrum of Indian fiction. In this interview, Davidar talks about the short story and the making of the anthology. Excerpts:

What makes a short story?

R. K. Narayan, one of the world’s greatest writers, tells an amusing story about creative writing in general and the short story in particular. He writes: Once I was present at a lecture on creative writing. The lecturer began with: “All writing may be divided into two groups—good writing and bad writing. Good books come out of good writing while bad writing produces failures.” When touching on the subject of the short story, the lecturer said: “A short story must be short and have a story.” At this point I left unobtrusively, sympathizing with the man’s predicament.  Continue reading

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Bleak House

Primal Woman, a collection of translated short stories by the late Sunil Gangopadhyay reveals his preoccupation with man’s inhumanity: Open

Sunil Gangopadhyay is a literary institution. An atheist, a radical, co-opted by the establishment. Happily co-opted, it must be said, and by the end a pillar of that establishment—Poet Sunil, as Ginsberg called him in September on Jessore Road, turned president of the Sahitya Akademi. This is literary life (or perhaps just life): at one time, you’re the firebrand, dismissing Tagore as soft and sentimental, founding experimental literary journals, inveighing against the status quo; and then, before you know it, you’re ‘the man’, an abuser of power, rapacious, venal; a toad squatting balefully atop ‘Literature’. Continue reading

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Review: New Urdu Writings from India and Pakistan edited by Rakshanda Jalil

A remarkable collection of short stories translated from Urdu that are both thought-provoking and enduring: The Hindu

UrduCenturies ago, Urdu was born in the streets and markets of Delhi and became a language of middle-class North Indians. But, in the post-Partition India, it was replaced by Hindi and English. Ironically, it was adopted by Pakistan where the majority of people don’t speak Urdu. In India, though, it survived in Hindi film songs and in poetry symposia. The last few years have seen a renewed interest in this beautiful language but, alas, a majority of youngsters can’t read Urdu in the original Nastaliq script, as they are more comfortable with English. This anthology targets those Indian readers. What I liked most about this collection was the absence of Chugtai and Manto. These two writers have been translated and talked about so often that most non-Urdu speakers think that Urdu has produced just two short story writers. Continue reading