Humorous and humane

Her approach is engaging, humorous and humane, as she lifts their quilts to reveal intimate secrets or point at romantic canoodlings in the kitchen in the opposite flat with a conspiratorial wink. As a group of young partygoers in the story, The Dead Camel, put forth in small talk, “Fiction is what real life isn’t… it stabs at the truth of the human condition…”

Love crops up in various forms and unexpected places, binding this collection of short stories. Love may fade, but memories of past loves crop up and help to make sense of the present.

Re: Elections 2004 the narrator Meera discusses with her landlord ‘Uncle’ and ‘Aunty’ the differences and parallels between the anti-Sikh riots of 1984 and the more recent violence in Godhra, memories of which continue to haunt Indians. Meanwhile, Meera remembers with longing a former girlfriend, a Muslim, long after their relationship has died. 

The drama of daily living and relationships play out. The startling image of a dead camel lying across a Delhi street recurs in the narrator’s mind as he navigates his way through friendships and love. It reminds him of his love for a woman whose heart reaches out to injured cats and birds, and who loves him.

The stories First Love and How Hollow Rings the temple bell sparkle with good natured, non-judgemental humour. Collegian Moon Bordoloi aspires to “meet real Punjabi women, for who he’d been nursing a secret fetish for a decade.” His plain classmate Jehanara decides that she is in love with Moon, while Moon is attracted to the pretty Amrit Kaur.

Moon laboriously crafts love letters and plans trips with Amrit to Agra. Meanwhile, Jehanara too is drawn towards Amrit, and while Moon waits on tenterhooks in vain, Jehanara gets temptingly caressed on the neck by Amrit.

Shamsher, the idle offspring of rich and accomplished parents, is hell bent on getting his mediocre novel published. While publisher Mona Bhasin feels like burning the whole thing, Shamsher strikes a deal after years of persistence; a deal wryly reflecting the ethics and attitudes of today’s aspiring urban Indians.

He will offer the prized rights to his famous mother’s paintings. In return, she must publish his atrocious novel as an exquisitely produced twin set. 

Modern day expressions of love can unsettle a conventionally middle-class Mrs Ghosh. After her return from a holiday in Goa, she goes to the opposite flat to register her unease with the live-in couple. She fears being ridiculed as an older prude, but ultimately accepts the situation and even swallows a giggle because the lovers are both women. 

Many of these stories revolve around tastefully executed explorations of lesbian love, clearly Sharma’s strong point. Other aspects of love are also touched upon, but not always with the same degree of artistry and conviction.

In The More Loving One, the tolerant and loving elder brother Faiz Rai and his selfish and parasitical younger brother Gautam come across as two dimensional figures compared to the better developed characters in the other stories.

In Genealogy, young Gyan stops bathing after his loving mother is thrown out by his father. Gyan’s sorrow and bewilderment are portrayed with depth and sensitivity. The story leaves one wishing for deeper insights into Gyan’s rigid
and heartbroken father and adulterous mother.

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