In recent years,
Indian publishers seemed to have given short story writers the short end of the
stick which is why is it lovely that 2020 threw up some beautiful collections
by authors at the top of their game like Nisha Susan. Two – time Commonwealth Short
Story Prize Winner, Anushka Jasraj also makes an assured debut with ‘Principles
Jasraj has crafted
13 stories featuring a host of characters who are mostly from dysfunctional
backgrounds and entirely dissatisfied with their lives, prompting them to
embrace the preposterous with mixed results. In the story after which this
collection is based, the reader encounters a weather forecaster, who has mommy
issues so debilitating, she is pushed to the brink of sanity. ‘Notes from the
Ruins’ and ‘Entomology’ take the tired old love triangle for a spin and makes
one wonder when this tedious trope will be trashed. In the ‘Circus’ a young
woman decides to run away. But not to join the circus of course but to live
with the lion – tamer since that is the sort of thing that makes little sense
outside the mad hatter’s world these characters inhabit. In ‘Westward’ Soraya
meets Sigmund Freud who wonders what her father would make of her fear of dogs.
‘Drawing Lessons’ is about an unhappily married woman who has dreams where real
life friends try to make her see where her sexual inclinations lie and say
stuff like ‘Amazon women cut off their breasts, so they can be better
The star of ‘Elephant Maximus’, is Cassata who is a cat – napper not to be confused with a cat burglar who decides to kidnap an elephant. Then there are the fortune tellers and others of their ilk in ‘Venus in Retrograde’ and ‘Numerology’. In the former, a young man is haunted by a ghost he invented who may or may not be and in the latter, a young girl waits for a long time to read the last letter, her mother left her, which contains a list of things an astrologer put down to decode her future. The private investigator in ‘Feline’ finds herself inconvenienced when she desires the subject she has been tailing at the behest of his ex – girlfriend. These spaces are the most hard to swallow since they appear to have been built and not lived in.‘Radio Story’ on the loss of freedom and love is the most affecting story of the lot.
The writing is
clever, awfully so. Fragmentary to the point, where it is just plain
frustrating. Filled to the brim with characters whose character arcs are
sketched out by means of cryptic clues that tend to confound more than clarify.
Mostly though the collection abounds in the realms of the absurd and is overly
spiced with an abundance of quirk for quirk’s sake.
Those looking for
simple, enjoyable reads with three, cleanly demarcated acts are in for
disappointment since Jasraj tends does not bother with tying up loose ends with
neat little flourishes. She prefers to leave the reader dangling fretfully or
bursting with questions that have no answers. Those with the patience to
unravel the carefully stacked layers will be rewarded with the occasional
strokes of brilliance and rare insights into the futility of human existence
but these are few and far between.
This book review originally appeared in The New Indian Express.