Saturday, March 16, 2013

Madhulika Liddle - My Lawfully Wedded Husband and other Stories

I love short stories. Flip over 5-10-20 pages and the story is done.  It usually deals with one aspect of the life of its protagonists, so the reader does not have to remember a lot.  On the other hand, just as you have gotten into a story and the character, it is done with.  It is difficult sometime to turn to another story immediately, as you are still 'into' the first one.  Hence, I find it difficult to get through books of short stories at a stretch.  They usually lie on my 'unread' pile on the bookshelf, to be picked up when the fancy takes me.

My Lawfully Wedded Husband is a collection of 12 stories.  They are mostly funny/scary/dark and sometimes, all three combined.

1. Sum Total - A young woman goes on a killing spree when she finds herself pushed to the limits by people around her. 

2. A Tale of a Summer Vacation - A young girl happens to be visiting her grandmother in Goa when an incident takes place with a neighbor.  There are some secrets that only time can unlock.

3. A Brief Lesson in Trust - Two childhood friends find themselves face to face again after many years.  Surely an old friend can be trusted to help you out when you are in a bad spot.

4.  Feet of Clay - There are many people who seem harmless, but are not.

5.  My Lawfully Wedded Husband - Boring people can be safe to be with, some times.  Maybe it is not a good idea to be scornful about people who are staid on the outside.

6. Number 63 - Sometimes it helps to be a nosey neighbor.

7. On the Night Train - There is a nice tip in here that can help you get a good night's sleep on a train.

8. Hourie - A grim look at the happenings inside a whorehouse.

9. Silent Fear - A scary office tale.

10. St. George and the Dragon - This is what happens in a government office when a frustrated PA decides to act against his boss.

11. The Crusader - How many times have we gone to see a movie and felt unhappy about people who don't allow us to watch it peacefully.

12. The Howling Waves of Tranquebar - Even a tiny place like Tranquebar can have an exotic story behind it.

Madhulika's prose is elegant and simple.  The stories often have a twist in the end, some skilful and some predictable.  In case of St. George and the Dragon, I liked the story a lot.  It was a very genuine portrait of a government office.  But I felt the end was a bit too drastic.  Silent Fear was a bit unsubstantial.   Apart from these little things, all the stories are immensely likeable.

The last one in the collection, The Howling Waves of Tranquebar is exceptional.  It is going to rank among the best short stories I have ever read.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Keigo Higashino - Salvation of a Saint

I do not have a huge budget for buying books.  A book that costs Rs.350/- or more makes me groan.  I am not one of those IT professionals who take home upward of 50k every month. Much much less in fact.

I could join a library, you might suggest.  There are seldom good choices available in a library.  It is like shopping for exotic vegetables on the cart of the vendor who roams in your mohalla.   Just like the cart is often loaded with the ubiquitous aloo, the library is also loaded with books that were published in the 50s.

Hence you are forced to buy books if you are to read the latest titles that are reviewed in the newspapers.  If the book measures up to your expectations,  you do not mind the money you spent on it.  If it does not, you rue even the poor tree that was cut down to print the book.

I read a glowing review of the book by Keigo Higashino, Salvation of a Saint in a newspaper.  That sent me off to to order the book.

Yoshitaka and Ayane are on the verge of a split.  He is carrying on with her friend and  assistant Hiromi. Ayane is upset about this and goes to visit her mother.  She has to hurry back when her husband is discovered dead in his house, a cup of poisoned coffee by his side.  What looks like a suicide is found to be murder.  Detective Kusanagi steps in and finds himself falling for the lovely widow.  His assistant is worried that it will affect his judgement.  She decides to get help from an old friend.

The story is narrated skilfully and keeps you turning pages.  The writer gives away very little, just a tantalizing hint here and a glimpse there to make you suspect this or that character.

However, the denouement, when it did come, made me feel a wee bit let down.  The mystery of how the man was poisoned seemed a bit far fetched.  And the story also changed a lot in the last chapter.

The novel was not too skilfully translated.  The translation is not really smooth.  It is a bit awkward in places.

It is good enough to read in an airport/metro and all such places where you just want to lose yourself in something racy to while away the long hours. 

Saturday, March 09, 2013

Mohammed Hanif - Our Lady of Alice Bhatti

The book reminded me of a game of billiards.  The cue hits a ball which nudges several other balls and finally kisses one teetering on the edge, and pushes it into the pocket.  We are not solely responsible for all that happens to us.  It is a game of cause and effect, the actions of others tell on us and often improve or worsen our situation.

Our Lady of Alice Bhatti is the story of Alice Bhatti of French Colony daughter of Joseph Bhatti, the prince among chooras. He is the go-to guy when a clogged drain flummoxes all the other cleaners.  Her sainted mother died when she fell down the stairs in the house where she was employed as a maid.  The mourners at her funeral were intrigued by a fellow servant from that same household who kept saying 'murder murder' as he cried.  Some people were of the opinion that he was actually crying 'martyr martyr'.

What chance does Alice have of getting on in life when...

1.  She is an untouchable, a choora

2.  She is a Christian in the land of Muslas

3.  She has just served time in jail

4.  She is a woman

Alice tries to rise above her station in life by studying Nursing.  With some help from Dr. Jamus Pereira she finds work at the Sacred Heart hospital of All Ailments.  The grim looking Sister Hina Alvi comes to her rescue when she is stuck.  The young jailbird Noor, another of Dr. Pereira's proteges, is working at the hospital so his mother, who is cancer ridden, can get medical aid there.  

Alice has just started work at the hospital when Teddy Butt walks into her life.  Captivated by the pretty nurse, Teddy starts wooing her with determination.   Teddy Butt is body builder and also a peripheral police helper.  His boss, Inspector Malangi has caught Abu Zar, a terrorist.  Teddy is given the task of making him talk.

All these characters impact the life and times of  Our Lady of Alice Bhatti.  Alice is a victim of a society where it is a crime to be a woman, let alone being an untouchable and a Christian.

Mohammed Hanif draws a realistic portrait of life in Karachi and at a big busy hospital, Sacred Heart.  In fact the life at Sacred Heart is so self sufficient, that the novelist steps outside it just a few times, when he needs to show how the events happening outside will impact the lives of those who live within the hospital.

This is a skillfully written story.  It is replete with dark humor and compassion.  I won't say the book was unputdownable for me.  There were times when its starkness disturbed me and I had trouble continuing with it.  But the story of Alice and Teddy made me pick it up, and I must say, the end of the book is superb.