Short stories

Tehelka has a special issue on short stories around the theme “Excess: Look around you. Look at the year gone by. Look where we are headed.” Here are some random picks:

My house is your house

by Sudeep Chakravarti, the author of “Tin Fish,” “Red Sun – Travels in Naxalite Country,” and “Once Upon a Time in Aparanta.”

sudeepAND SO, to Sinbad’s lair. The cocaine whores are already there when I arrive. Sinbad likes cocaine whores: boys and girls; and if they come by, in-betweens. Having them around fills his sails. It’s a sickle moon tonight, and sickly, captured by streamers of cloud. Even with the moon largeand luminous, free in the sky, there is a curious space between the wrought iron gate and the verandah. This is a walk of only a dozen steps, a chessboard of velvet grass and granite that keeps at bay tentative rushes of palm, hibiscus and bird of paradise. Here, the light from the sharp gate lamps and bright rainbow souk-lanterns on the balcony, the laughter of the whores, the chink of glasses touching or the urgent sound of one breaking, are all muted.

The place eats up sound and light, this moat-avenue. It exudes a collective
threat, as if a wall would rise to block progress were anyone to arrive or leave with bad intention.

So far, the place has let me pass, even as it knows of the death I carry in my heart. A mystery. More:

Paraphilia

by Ambarish Satwik, a surgeon and author of “Perineum: Nether Parts of the Empire.” “Perineum” is a rogue and deviant sexual history of the British colonial project in India:

paraphiliaDR KEDAR Deshpande, Head of Unit IV, Department of Surgical Disciplines, Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital. Married, childless. Squat-faced wife, square and low set. Of a scabrous ugliness that has no antecedent history of beauty. Both of them are Maharashtrian Deshastha Brahmins, of the Rigvedi subsect and lacto vegetarians. And from a long line of relentless endogamy.

On a vedic purity scale that’s like having the moon on a stick.

Dr Deshpande is a professor of General Surgery. What he likes doing most are cancers of the mouth and the neck. Large resections of fungating masses involving the tongue, cheeks, lips, palate, jaw bone etc and then reparative procedures to fill the holes in the face with skin and muscle flaps harvested from the chest. His patients, after they’ve been beguiled of their cheeks and jaws and then restored with flesh from other parts, are called ‘Deshpande’s Cyclopes’ by his students. They are his labour of love. He keeps a fat photo album in his desk, of ‘before’ and ‘after’ photographs. There was a time when he was steeped in the management of breast carcinoma. Now, for a while, it has been oral malignancies. Kedar Deshpande is a man of middle height, civil gray hair and has a smile that is quite fetching, but is proffered with such frequency that it loses most of its fertility. He wears crisp shirts in pastel shades and ties that are manifestly anachronistic in terms of length and width. More:

Mrs Roberts

by Ruskin Bond, author of several novellas (including Vagrants in the Valley, A Flight of Pigeons and Delhi Is Not Far), essays, poems and children’s books, as well as over 500 short stories and articles:

bondELSIE ROBERTS had been quite a beauty in her twenties and thirties; one of those fair Anglo-Indians who passed for European until their accents gave them away. Elsie, it was said, did her best to remain fair, staying out of the sun as much as possible. In her later years, she was seldom seen during the day, but by then she had lost her looks and taken to drink; she slept by day and lived by night.

In her heyday, Elsie (nee MacGowan) was a dancing partner to Roberts, a good-looking French Jew who had made his way to India just before World War II broke out. They danced in Cabaret at the Imperial and Swiss in Delhi, and at Hakman’s in Mussoorie, and Filetto’s in Lahore. They made an elegant pair; they danced beautifully. Inevitably they were compared to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, the dancing sensations of the silver screen. They married, and continued to partner each other until the War ended. Then, Roberts made a trip to France to claim and collect some compensation due to him as a war refugee. As he stood at the cashier’s counter, waiting for the first instalment to be handed over to him, he collapsed and died of a heart attack. Chance gives, and takes away, and sometimes gives again; but human life is equally unpredictable.

However, Elsie, as his widow, was entitled to the proceeds. She gave up her dancing career and took to breeding dogs. I first saw her when she came to see my mother in New Delhi, sometime in 1958. My mother was breeding Poms, and Elsie bought a small black Pom. She was still very attractive (Elsie, not the Pom) and was escorted by a gentleman who owned a small restaurant in Mussoorie. More:

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