In the pages of this slick and colorful book lie wonderfully captured the lives of an impressive range of characters. The people in these stories, their life worlds and above all their strikingly individual attempts at finding a way out of crucial existential dilemmas they face is the reason the nine stories in this anthology deserve to be read, appreciated and pondered about.
Firstly, each of Verma’s stories are about a sufficient detailing of the predicament in which the protagonists are situated. Secondly, each story uses the technique of conversation and dialogue quite powerfully. As a result, we meet quite a good number of people from varied socio-economic backgrounds, read about who they are, get to know of what they think and ‘hear’ a lot of their justifications for the decisions and choices that they have made in their lives. Each story is ultimately about a tension that we aim to resolve so very often in our lives that it begins to seem unresolvable and hence banal. Verma takes us back to those ‘love marriage versus arranged marriage’ and ‘learning to say No versus learning to compromise and sacrifice’ debates.
These stories do not make a villain out of any of these actors and refrain from offering easy solutions to the deeply philosophical issues they raise. Interestingly, the book offers the readers an innovative option to rewrite the endings of these stories on the author’s website in the event of their dissatisfaction with any of the endings. The episodic nature of some of these stories and the detailed biographical element in others arouse equal amount of interest and one would have to appreciate the comfort and ease with which the author addresses an impressive range of emotional entanglements. Be it the plight of a failed love affair, anxieties and insecurities of a marital discord or the complexities of living in a joint family, Verma addresses them all with a studied sensitivity.
Two stories that I specially enjoyed reading would be The Practitioner of Austerity and The Soul Mate Theorist. The former reminded me of Ritwik Ghatak‘s classic Meghe Dhake Tara. Through a glimpse into the tribulations of its protagonist Aparna’s life, the story says a thousand things about the meanings of being a daughter, a woman and a civil servant from the scheduled caste whose life is ultimately nothing but a sacrifice that hardly anyone takes a note of. In what appeared to me to be a modern-day adaptation of the Rajesh Khanna starrer Amar Prem, The Soul Mate Theorist takes us to a bar where two college friends discuss women, love and sex. From the bar we are taken to the apartment of a sex worker where we meet her son. This story is a wonderful take on the static and constraining institutions that marriage and family can actually turn out to be.
The book is written with a specific audience in mind and does falter on its ‘appeal’ quotient. In a few places, the descriptions seem trite and unnecessary. The reference to the internet pages where background research on the settings of these stories was undertaken could have been avoided. Overall, this is an interesting book- one that ideally can be read on one of those days when the mind is prone to some retrospection and is willing to pause and take stock of all the puzzles that life has had to offer!