Author: Neelesh Misra’s Mandali
Translated by: Khila Bisht
Publisher: Penguin Random House
Pages: 214; Price: Rs 250
Writing a short story is a unique act of creativity – ranging as it does from being ‘a mirror of the soul of the writer’ (Maconochie’s The Craft of the Short Story) to Chesterton’s claim that ‘…the story has … imagination, which is in its essence divine’ (Heretics). What then, would mentoring of several short-story writers be?
Storywallah (one wonders about the anglicised spelling against the more appropriate: ‘wala’) has 20 stories written by Neelesh Misra’s Mandali. Perhaps it is a reflection of the times that these stories are poignant accounts of alone-ness in a crowded, busy world, and the need to connect, and the regret of not having connected when one could. Also striking about this collection is the large presence of the ‘home-town’, where emotional anchoring thrived and relationships were meaningful, when religion, culture and personal emotions intermingled comfortably, and when aging parents and their idiosyncrasies were not yet a burden… twenty stories that raise a storm of feelings as one pores nostalgically over the 200-odd pages.
The stories speak of reluctant reconciliations and unquestioning parental love; while one looks for ‘the sparkle in her eyes’ another looks for ‘a trace of tears in her eyes’; an overcoat suppresses personal happiness for family responsibilities, while love prevails through a bouquet of yellow roses; houses are sold and bought raising emotions in all their rawness; there are tales of old age, memories and adjustments, and of revenge losing its sting; stories of women with no claims to feminism, but bold enough to break relationships on matters of personal integrity. A widowed pair dares to find love while a daughter goes in search of her mother’s paramour examining the delicate questions of love and fidelity; and then, the most touching, disturbing of all, about the gnawing anxiety of losing a little daughter to gypsies — and the equally gnawing hope of finding her again. A careless mountain-climbing attempt brings two strangers together — with the hope of a deeper relationship and an old love is revisited after 25 years bringing home the gentle theme of healing through sharing.
The reflective atmosphere, however, that comes across these stories is something most Indian readers would identify with: Departure from the native village or town to reside in the overwhelming metropolises or abroad, the ‘ties that bind’ will always be taut — across geographical distances, and across the years of growing up.
Storywallah presents the English version of stories that were written in Hindi. Though translations, particularly into a language alien to the idiom of the original composer, tend to lose much of the native flavour, the present effort is fairly successful in conveying the original milieu; some expressions could have been fine-tuned with the help of an effective editor though. It hardly matters that the stories were meant for being heard over the radio – the writers’ messages come across quite clearly. One doesn’t rate Grimm’s Fairy Tales and the less just because Grandma’s reading them out loud had a different charm altogether!
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