The Times of India,September 19, 1993
Right As Rain
By Indu Saraiya Grey Pigeon And Other Stories
By Neelum Saran GourPenguin Books India
"See how a light story has turned into a serious one", exclaims a young girl - storyteller in one of these stories, and that is also how these 19 autonomous, yet jointly cellulating stories accumulate their power. Entering through the simplest of situations - a New Year's Eve Party, a pen - friendship, a laboratory experiment, a homoeopathic consultation, a dying pet - dog, a golden jubilee, an academic's field research - Gour conjures within seconds a criss - crossing, vertically multiplying story, a sudden gestalt. Yet the momentum is threaded through with inconclusive questions that hang on the air.
Was, there, for instance, a motive behind the aggressive neighbourliness of brother - and - sister Das Gupta towards the meek bachelor Rajni Kant Sahay when the latter moved into Shilpara Lane with his well - loved paraphernalia of books, music discs, coffee cups, Moradabad brasses, Afghan lamp and so on to supply all his inner needs? (Portable Property). Or, did the senile and dying 92 - year - old Bangladeshi grandmother swallow the elaborate lie of Pranab's pretence of being her son, and Pranab's house being her own old house in pre - Partition Chandigram? (The Flight). Or, was the rootless, restless, inveterate sponger Vasant Thakur an honest existential seeker or a confidence man who hooked and rooked the not entirely gullible hotel receptionist Miss Choudhury? (Fools' Paradise). Beyond these questions looms the larger one: were these lies morally wrong but humanly compulsive, even perhaps curative, and therefore exonerable? In the earlier stories, Gour processes these questions through situations which ordinary people encounter in their daily lives. But as the stories progress, the author begins to feel out some answers. In the penultimate story, 'Notes and Chapters' she takes up the larger question in the context of history. Taking the familiar tragedy of the Mutiny of 1857, Gour constructs a brilliant pastiche to ask whether right and wrong, success and failure can be judged as absolutes, unaffected by the human mind. "To examine the revolt (Mutiny) from an amoral angle is not possible", says the field researcher in the story. "History witness the overthrow of most so - called norms and yet historians employ moral yardsticks to judge history. The status of moral ideals in history clearly indicates that many of our values are interpretatory and not substantive. Or that there are, as the Gnostics suggested, two parallel interwoven worlds and two sets of laws operating in all things, linked, but disparate".
Two parallel interwoven worlds - around that concept pivot most of Gour's stories. A great many of her character - creations - vivid, lovable, at times idiosyncratic, like Aunt Suparna "who loved writing letters to God" and biology tutor Abhijit Das "who doggedly translated every negative experience into positive deductions" - are studies in outward failure and loneliness, but inward success and nourishment. Such collisions result in many tragic, comic, piquant and paradoxical situations. The crossing over from actual reality to imagined reality and back which Gour's characters have to contantly effect induces a high degree of narrative mobility in these value - asserting stories. Collectively, the stories swathe the uniquely polychrome quality of Indian life which permeates that of the village idolmaker, rising right up to that of the returning US immigrant. The writer celebrates with lingering, caressing sensivity - much as Vikram Seth does in his novel. A Suitable Boy - such diversities as an ex - Nawab's search for Nadeem's almond gillories on the one hand, and Arthurian colloquies of a retired Anglo - Indian headmaster on the other; a loyal Bengali government servant's gift by post to Prince Charles, and a protesting Marxist; Bade Chacha Imam Bux's unsteady Khayals with bursting bomb blasts. Indians to the core, these stories are right as rain.
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