Capturing city lights

Capturing city lights

Urban Shots Edited by Paritosh Uttam Grey Oak Publishers 2010, pp 224 145

The collection is divided into five sections: relationships, love, friendship, angst and longing. A stratification that seems redundant for although the categories seem discrete, on closer reading the stories are similar enough in the emotions being explored to be able to fit into any of the sections, the one exception being the segment titled, Angst, where they are distinctly different.

Appropriately — in the city lakhs of people live within breathing distance of one another — the first emotion to be explored is “Relationships”. The churning of human life in our cities throws up all kinds of relationships and the reader is, thus, eager to see what the authors have to offer.

Alas, all the stories — barring two — deal with the relationship between man and woman, throwing into deep shade all the other relationships that thrive in a city — mother and son; father and daughter; friendships; rivalries; neighbourhood problems. On reading through the other sections, the reader discovers that there too the dominant emotion being touched upon is that of romantic love. Only in Angst do the stories veer away from this topic and, for that reason, stand out against the others.

In the section, Relationships, two stories that stand out are Malathi Jaikumar’s, Liberation and Paritosh Uttam’s, The Biggest Problem, stories that coincidentally are not about love. In Liberation, the author explores a psychological phenomenon that crops up in our society, where people become possessed by various gods or demons and are then worshipped by the awe-struck people around them. Jaikumar has presented an interesting twist to this by depicting the story of a woman who resorts to this possession to avoid physical abuse by her husband.

Another interesting perspective on the problems that crop up in families living cheek by jowl in our cramped cities has been deftly illustrated by author Paritosh Uttam in his well-crafted story, The Biggest Problem.

Love and Friendship, as it has been explored by the authors here, feels a little clichéd and sometimes jaded; the people involved in these relationships seem to experience feelings that are not too deeply rooted. Maybe it is not their fault, perhaps it is the fault of the hectic, glittering, impatient cities that they, and we all, live in, but, often, the stories move so fast that one is not given a chance to delve below the surface at all.

Interestingly, one story that does grip is the one titled, Slow Rain. In this slower story, Abha Iyengar does succeed in evoking the pathos, some of the bitter-sweetness that unrequited love brings in its wake. Love-All, by Kunal Dabhalia is another story that is arresting: the story has a seemingly nonchalant tone, the author desists from any kind of mushiness, yet the story is moving in its underlying tenderness.

Angst, is a wonderfully rich section. Malathi Jaikumar with her, Just Average, and Vrinda Baliga, with Stick Figures, bring to the reader, beautifully nuanced, touching stories. And Paritosh Uttam, again, impresses with his story, A Cup of Tea. Somehow, one is left with the niggling feeling that stories not about romantic love seem to be more evocative than the ones about it. A feeling reinforced again by the section, Longing, where the powerful feelings evoked by the previous section’s writings fail to be aroused.

Urban Shots is certainly a readable collection, especially for the reader in our hectic cities where time is short. The stories do not demand very much more from the reader than a light engagement and thanks to the gems that lie scattered within it, he is left feeling satisfied.