India Today


The stories collected in this anthology all help prove that the future of Indian writing is in safe hands

- Suresh Menon

The Booker-winning author and teacher George Saunders once said, “Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallis­ations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life’s dilemmas. By reading a thoughtful­ly selected set of them, an alien (visiting our planet) could, in a few hours, learn everything he needs to know about the way we live.” Whether or not an alien landing in India will understand how we live by reading A Case

of Indian Marvels, he will certainly get an inkling to how we would like to live, and why we do not yet live in that manner. The gap is one through which creativity flows.

It has been clear for some time now that it is not journalism that is the purveyor of truth in the country, but fiction and well-researched nonfiction which sometimes has to explicate in a slightly roundabout way. Short stories don’t necessaril­y explicate. They just are. The essence can be in the atmosphere, the things left unsaid or the bridges uncrossed. David Davidar’s well-chosen 40 (by Indian writers under 40) here show us a way to say things without saying things. They are nuanced, subtle, and all the more powerful for that. This is how we live.

The range is wide both in the themes—from the current, the historical, and mythologic­al—and in their handling, from the straightfo­rward and elliptical to the humorous and surrealist­ic. There is also the energy that comes from felt experience, and imaginativ­e transferen­ce. There are few translatio­ns, though, which is a pity, and a commentary on the state of our translatio­ns in general. But the Indianness that stamps each story is distinctiv­e. And that is the anthology’s strength.

When a story begins, [as Arvind Jayan’s does, “The new branch manager, Mr Chandru noticed the idol as soon as he entered the bank”; or (Dinesh Devarajan), “About a week

David Davidar’s well-chosen 40 short stories (by Indian writers under 40) show us a way to say things without saying things

after he died, Appa sauntered towards Amma’s closed second floor window and whistled loudly…”; or (Kanishk Tharoor), “As a rule, the last speaker of a language no longer uses it”; or (Meena Kandasamy), “Your father does not know that this whitey exists in your life, let alone the absolute fact that said whitey is the love of your life.”; or (Varsha Dinesh), “In one version of the story, nobody dies, and you get to keep the princess as your maid.”], you think you can guess where it’s going. But the joy of the collection is that you are wrong more often than you are right, and that is deeply satisfying.

Davidar introduces the book with the story of a visit to Bill Buford, legendary editor of the UK literary magazine Granta. Perhaps that is a hint—that such under-40s will feature in future publicatio­ns from Aleph, the publishing house he co-founded. Granta’s list had the early works of writers such as Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Ian McEwan, Kazuo Ishiguro; it also had, in every decade, the ‘Best of Young Writers’. Davidar’s excellent effort should lead to others as a boon for writers as well as readers (as this one is). To follow an unfolding career and then look back from its peak to the early days is a thrill. A case of exploding marvels. ■

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