Bouquet of emotions

Bouquet of emotions

There is love and despair, heartache and reconciliation, loss and happiness. In fact, it is human drama played out in subtle, subdued fashion. The stories range from the pre-independence era to modern times, and the action takes place from regions as far flung as the Rann of Kutch to the Agean stables, and Ranikhet to Lucknow and the Anglian coast.

Yet, what connects all these stories are Daruwalla’s pithy, crisp writing, and a language that is so rich that it gleams. Each story is more than just a story, and its protagonists, full of human frailties and contrasts, making them that much more real. For example, in the eponymous tale, Love Across the Salt Desert, we have the shy Najab, who cannot look at a woman without blushing, travelling across the treacherous Rann of Kutch all the way to Sind to whisk off beautiful Fatimah. An unbelievable tale rendered convincing through Daruwalla’s powerful writing.

The humanness of the characters is also one reason you cannot hate any of them, no matter what they do. One example is the venerable judge in The Jahangir Syndrome.

Another story, How the Quit India Movement came to Alipur, is a hilarious account of how dog biscuits played a part in bringing the nationalist movement to Alipur. Humour apart, Daruwalla’s deft sketches of the Indian nationalists and the servants in the story, say so much more about them than the words convey.

One of the most beautiful stories in the collection is In a High Wind, where we find Khurram Bakht reminiscing about the wonderful life he had in Lucknow, knowing that he might have to give it all up and leave for Karachi after Partition. This is a story that can be read for its sheer imagery. “The half moon’s half light spawned faint shadows, an added shade of grey that lay there unnoticed within blurred outlines, a smear of char on a landscape of nicotine.” ... “The ledge that ran along a neighbour’s roof turned into a sail boat on the wall across the street...”

In Daughter we have an absorbing story of a gentle Parsi father’s futile bid to stop his daughter from marrying a Muslim. When his feeble attempts to dissuade her have the opposite effect, the normally over-cautious father can only react by asking his servant not to latch the doors and windows for the night, “for what did an unlatched door or a window left open matter...” when his life was to be a void without his daughter?

In some stories like A house in Ranikhet, there is such a twist in the tale that it leaves the reader flabbergasted. In other stories, the reader has an inkling of the end, such as Walls, where Malti finds a strange relief from her nightmares with the discovery of an infidelity; Going, about a grand daughter’s bond with her grandmother; and The Day of the Winter Solstice, about an old man’s dream coming true in a most unusual fashion. Yet others are surreal like The Tree and Trojan Horse. No matter what the story is, Keki Daruwalla leads the reader on through the magic of his prose.

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