While shopping for books in December, I chanced upon this anthology with a vibrant cover and an interesting title. While I was amazed by the illustrations, the blurb of the book was the real charmer that inspired me to pick this book.
The book promised funny, dark, richly layered debut collection of stories, something I hadn’t read in a while owing to my growing inclination towards non-fiction. The blurb on the back of the book reads:
A fanatical collector of beetles finds out too late where his passion has led him. A woman out on a shopping spree in a glitzy mall finds she can’t go home again. A servant girl experiences a cruel loss of innocence when she eats something that wasn’t meant for her. In the sweltering heat of Bombay, a schoolgirl finds the ground slipping beneath her feet except when she’s watching Star Trek. Four friends meet for drinks one evening, only to find that their friendship is not what it seems. And, in the extraordinary title story, a student who has worshipped his teacher for decades comes to a terrible realization about him. Meanwhile, his old mentor is planning a cunning legacy of his own.
I am open to reading books by new authors as far they promise to deliver something exciting, something beyond the mundane, something refreshingly unusual. The promise of a flourish of dark stories by a debuting author piqued my curiosity enough to pick this title as soon as I read about it.
The book’s cover captures the essence of the title in the illustration where a colorful circus tent bearing the name ‘Jumbo’ occupies the center spot on a white cover. While the gramophone and the beetle highlight the essence of two of its masterpiece stories, I feel the cover would have benefited with illustrations depicting more stories or sticking to only the circus tent. The current cover hints at author’s (possible) favorite stories from the ten that make up this anthology.
The beauty of this anthology lies in the care for detail. Every story portrays a different scenario, touches upon the dark crevices of the human mind, gently tapping on the reader’s mind, evoking relatability to the emotions we often shy away from talking openly about.
The book is a collection of cleverly titled short stories of varying lengths that filled me with a disturbing, dark, melancholy feeling in the start. I was on the verge of giving up reading the book because an uncanny feeling of helplessness seemed to engulf me mid-way while reading The Mall (third story in the book). I’m glad I chose to finish the story and also the book because the way the story ended and the stories that followed unfurled, left me happy for having chosen to stay put.
The first story in the book Homo Coleoptera lost its mystic element because the ardent biology student in me guessed what was in store from the title itself. Thank God for Star Trek hit home for me as a single parent with the way it portrays the tempest of a child’s mind, an area of keen interest for me lately.
Cotton, Sandalwood and The Circuses That Sweep Through the Landscape are my favorites. I strongly feel the book would have benefited by avoiding the last story from being titled as the title of the anthology.
“… I recognize that the thing I have been waiting for has just wafted in, and there is a lump in my throat, moisture in my eyes, banal, utterly banal symptoms, for it is a stronger emotion than anything I have felt prior to this night of fine dust and dank attic; sitting on the wooden floor I am lifted up by the crackling, warped notes sung fifty years ago and my soul is in danger of being swept up and out through that murky window slanting towards the violet-black sky; I want to step off the roof and float and flail above the abyss, to twirl off into a frenzied dance, to sink to the floor and sob with my face in the rough grained planks, to have the life snuffled out of me, to go up in a smudge of smoke and merge into the languorous, persuasive voice that lazily sways the very air.”
I wish to congratulate the author in the successful portrayal of an array of characters who are closer to life yet are peculiar in their own right. The stories score high on spinning around myriad situations, touching upon an array of emotions where the protagonists scuffle with their own feelings and often fail to comprehend them.
The stories are open-ended leaving plenty of room for interpretation. They successfully make the reader eagerly wait for the author’s next work.
The book is a winner in the portrayal of vivid experiences in rich vocabulary, picturesque prose, lucid narration and characters that draw inspiration from an array of situations, individuals, and geographical locations.
“Another idea coagulated in my mind. Like egg yolk turning solid with heat. That it wasn’t the raindrops that were speeding away from left to right, but my house that was streaking past them from right to left. Hurtling through an astral void, all a vaporous blur outside, save for the little wet stars zipping past me infinitely, but in reality each one a giant-ancient, icy,dead and distant, and it was I who raced past them. I was all alone in the world, all alone, and whizzing past in my solitary ship.”
The dark shades of every character bring to light the unseen, unspoken aspects of the human mind, that can be savored in every story of this anthology in a unique way. Overall the book wraps up with an Umami flavor once you put the book down.
I highly recommend this anthology to everyone who loves reading anthologies, are intrigued by the dark shades of the human mind and those who love marveling at open-ended short stories that’ll provide ample food for thought with every turn of the page.
About the Book:
Author – Tejaswini Apte-Rahm
Illustrator– Priya Kuriyan
Publisher – Aleph Book Publications
Genre – Fiction
Pages – 157
Price – INR 299
ISBN – 978-93-84067-56-4
About the Author: Tejaswini Apte-Rahm is a writer from Mumbai who has lived in Serbia, Israel, Cambodia, Thailand, Myanmar and Bangladesh. She studied in Singapore and the UK and worked as an environmental researcher for ten years. Tejaswini was a journalist in Mumbai and has written for Screen, Hindustan Times, the Times of India, and Asian Age. She currently lives in London and is a full-time writer.
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