URBAN SHOTS BRIGHT LIGHTS Edited by PARITOSH UTTAM

This collection of 29 short stories, written by 21 authors, is a mixed bag – as one would naturally expect.  There are stories that are quite clever, ones that are sad and moving, others that are a little pedestrian and contrived, and one that is outstanding.

I’ll leave that one till the end.

There is a nice regional spread in the stories.  The urbanisation of Bangalore is the backdrop for Ahmed Faiyaz’s poignant “Mr. Periera” describing a world where neighbours still – just about – know each other and are proud of each other’s achievements, and care for each other, despite the rapid pace of change taking place around them.

“Alabama to Wyoming” by Paritsh Uttam is a well-observed but sad story, about a young man who is kind and helpful and ends up being a figure of fun.  You the reader share in Sid’s shame, as he hears the mocking words he is not supposed to hear.

What I found interesting was that quite a number of stories dealt with extra-marital affairs and lovers, which is already quite a revelation.  Urban India is changing rapidly, and nothing illustrates this as clearly as the sexual behaviour of the middle class characters in a story such as Salil Chaturvedi’s “Silk”.  Lying being massaged by the gossipy Sarada, Priyanka hears about her friend’s affair.  It’s quite a clever device.  She knew her friend had been away on a holiday, but little did she realise the ramifications, so as she lies there being massaged, she joins all the dots together, and learns about the darker side of her friend Malini’s affair.  I quite liked this story, though I didn’t quite understand the ending.

“Double Mixed” by Namita V Nair is also about extra-marital affairs, but the plot is slicker than the previous story, making the ending clever and not at all predictable.

“Across the seas” another story by Ahmed Faiyaz seemed to speak of a slightly more old fashioned India.  An India that moves at a a slower pace – writing letters, waiting for a telephone connection, sending jars of pickles to the US via a friend – all slightly timeless, but charming none the less.

“Paisley Printed Memories” by Sneh Thakur was my second favourite story (I’m saving the best till last), and a clever, moving one, too.  Her descriptions of the build-up to the wedding, with the baraat arriving while the bride-to-be gets ready inside her house is well-done, and the bitter-sweet twist at the end of the tale makes it a poignant read.

The opening story, “Amul” by Arvind Chandrashekhar is clever, but I’m not quite sure that I “got” it.  I think the little girl has cancer.  She is apparently in Class V yet uses the word “damn” which puzzled me.  I liked the story, but something didn’t ring true in the language for me.

Which brings me to the head-and-shoulders-above-the-rest star of this collection. “The Interview” by Manisha Lakhe is beautifully written, in descriptive prose that has you sitting with the author in the Mumbai taxi in the rain, while the taxi-driver squeezes the car into impossible spaces, talking all the while, to the soundtrack of the windscreen wipers.  Ms Lakhe doesn’t try and fit too much into the story, and by telling it from the perspective of a conversation between just 2 characters, the reader is better able to concentrate on her great use of language.

This is exactly what a short story should be.  A beautifully neat well-written little gem.

In the introduction, the editor writes “A word of advice – give each story breathing space, before you begin the next one.”  Sound advice.  This is a collection to be dipped into at will, and returned to at will.

Published by Grey Oak, the paperback costs Rs 199.

If you would like to buy the book, nothing could be easier.  Just click on the link below…

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