Murli Melwani is the author of Stories of a Salesman (a collection of short stories), Deep Roots (a play), and Themes in Indo-Anglian Literature and The Indian Short Story in English 1835-2008 (two books of literary criticism)
An Engrossing Collection of Short Stories
Review by Maina Saikia
When we look at the Brahmaputra river we see not only its beautiful surface
but also become aware of the undercurrent. This is the comparison my mind
made when I read Murli Melwani’ s collection of short stories. On the
surface Murli Melwani’ s stories hold our attention because of the series of
events, the strokes delineating character, the touches of description and
the dialogue. The undercurrent is formed by the social concerns, political
issues, the contrast of traditions and the ethos of the setting, all of
which are suggested rather than stated.
Stories like “Gift for the Goddess” and “The Divine Light,” set in Rajasthan, bring out the clash between traditional thinking and the scientific temper of the space age. “Shiva’s Winds” and “Teesta Holiday,” embedded in the rugged beauty of the Rothang Pass and the North Bengal Hills respectively, pit the forces of nature against the indomitable human spirit. “The Village with Gandhi’s Statue,” with the background of the tobacco growing areas of Andhra Pradesh, exposes the moral heartlessness of the influential.
It’s understandable that a large number of stories should be set in the
North East since the author grew up and was educated in Shillong. “The
Guerilla’s Daughter” is a story about the insurgency in Nagaland and the
syncretic nature of religion. The picturesque beauty of Shillong and the
Khasi Hills is an apt backdrop for some of the stories. “Sunday on a Green
Lawn” is a touching love story. “Those Season of Contentment,” is about the
growing up and the heartbreak of loss. “Requital” records how irony plays out in life. “The Shrine” presents a Khasi folktale as a re-mix (the current
fashion in music and the arts).
Humor and satire move the narrative forward in in some of the stories. Good
examples are “Hawana of the East,” which records the relaxed manner in which
officialdom functions in the remote border areas, and “The Bhorwani
Marriage,” which focuses on the maneuvering that takes place when
expatriates fly into India to find partners for their children.
“Sunday with Mary,” set in urban Mumbai, is a picture of the sort of life
led by expatriates who return to India.
There is a group of stories about Indians, particularly Sindhis, who have
decided to settle overseas. The backgrounds of these stories extend from Chile
to Thailand and a few countries in between. “Water on a Hot Plate” shows an
NRI and an Indian-Chinese restaurateur sharing their memories of India. “The
Head of a Chicken,” moving between Hong Kong and Taiwan, is the story of an
unscrupulous businessman who will do anything to further his ends. “Writing
a Fairy Tale” tells of the attraction between and an Indian exporter and a
beautiful women trapped in an unhappy marriage with the exporter’s client. A
hostess in a Thai bar, in “A Bar Girl”, helps an elderly businessman to
restore his severed links with his family. “Hong Kong, Here I Come” and “The
Mexican Girlfriend” are portraits of two insensitive individuals who destroy
themselves and their families by their actions.
The variety of backgrounds and strong characterization form the two banks
through which this mini brahmaputra of stories runs.
Most of these stories were first published in journals and anthologies in
the U.S., U.K., India and Hong Kong. Some of them were nominated for a number of awards.
The Foreword, by Victor Banerjee, a distinguished son of the North East, is
highly perceptive. Mention must be made of designer Aditi Phukan’s unusual, eye-catching and pleasing layout.
I highly recommend Ladders Against the Sky by Murli Melwani.