These eight short stories explore issues of sex, guilt, family expectations and more in modern India.
Gautam (Andy Leelu, 2012) shows his characters getting caught up in various kinds of traps—involving class and education differences, sex, guilt and societal expectations—and he details how they respond, which is usually with stoic acceptance. In the title story, for example, Mohammed at first loathes Mary because she treats him as less than equal, though both are servants. When their employers, the Negis, go on vacation, Mohammed is instructed to assist Mary in their absence. He correctly suspects her of being Mr. Negi’s mistress and feels unsettled by her sexuality. She gives him old clothes belonging to Mr. Negi; when Mrs. Negi remarks that Mohammed looks “dashing” upon her return, Mr. Negi is displeased—and Mrs. Negi is even more so when she discovers Mary’s affair with her husband. Both employees are fired. Somehow, they put aside their differences: “Mary brought Mohammed lunch one day and never stopped.” Elsewhere, in “Easy Savitri,” the titular womanturns to prostitution to survive after her abusive husband’s early death. The narrator, a young man with good looks and intelligence, takes advantage of her daughter Pankhuri’s adoration of him; to disguise the pregnancy, Savitri marries her daughter off to a widower. The narrator knows he’s done wrong, yet Savitri blesses him as he’s leaving: “It was by far the most difficult moment of my life. But Savitri was easy. Easy as ever.” Sometimes, Gautam’s usage and phrasing can be peculiar, clumsy or opaque: “A few kicks here and there are acceptable…so far the devil provides the essentials to remain on its side”; “Cohabitation of two immiscible feelings in a pristine heart can put the life on a cliff-hanger”; “Mohammed felt sized.” However, Gautam can achieve some evocative images, as when Savitri imagines the future as yards of plain uncut cloth, the present as a sewing machine, and the past like “wash and wear [that] has the smell of everything familiar.”
A somewhat rough but insightful look at how people endure.