Monideepa Sahu gave up a life in the fast track of finance to a life with a pen, rather a PC. The former banker is the author of Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories, Riddle of the Seventh Stone, and Rabindranath Tagore: The Renaissance Man. Her short fiction has been widely anthologized in India and abroad. She writes opinion pieces and feature stories on literature, art and culture for a number of mainstream publications. She is Fiction Editor with Kitaab.
SENSITIVE AND WELL ROUNDED
In a world where writers seem to increasingly expend more energy screaming for attention, Monideepa Sahu comes across as a breath of fresh air. This also means that readers can miss her altogether, and in the process deprive themselves of fiction that is both sensitive and well rounded, satisfying as well as just a bit out of reach, providing more food for thought.
Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories is a book that can easily fit into a ladies bag or the side pocket of a backpack. You could read it on a train, at an airport during that pause between journey and destination, and find yourself carrying the stories along after the book is spent. The thing about this collection is that the stories themselves are about journeys.
Just as a stalk holds together its bunch of grapes, and the stem of a pinnate leaf its double row of leaflets, the idea of journeys runs like a spine
through this book of fourteen stories. And the journeys are not necessarily from one physical place to another. They are also from one inner point, a state of mind, into another.
In the first story “A Royal Tour”, a mother and her adolescent son take a trip down memory lane in Mysore, before “he leaves home to return as an occasional visitor”. The story is written in the first person and the narrator’s son is also called Siddhartha, like the author’s own son in real life, giving the impression that the story is autobiographical. However, the story, begun at the deeply personal level moves to the macro, connecting in an intimate way with its readers, many of whom would have similarly aged children and/or are on the verge of the empty nest syndrome.
“Road Kill” takes us to a little monkey watching in horror as his homeland of trees, shrubs, flowers and fruits, other animals and birds comes crashing down. The casualty is even more heart breaking as the monkey “braves the crowd to scurry across the manicured lawn”, because the reader realises the futility of his journey, but the monkey is too innocent to know it.
“Hoshi’s Bombay” takes the reader into the heart of a middle class Parsi locality during the early 1990s, in the aftermath of Babri Masjid, and bang into the midst of Hoshi’s drawing room with its ceiling-high piles of old newspapers. But the newspaper collection is no ordinary eccentricity. It is a tradition begun as a tribute to a lost friend. Nevertheless, Hoshi’s and Dina’s world is one of happy domesticity. And then a day arrives when their world splinters, dismantling the newspaper pillars in their drawing room. But Hoshi refuses to let anything get in the way of his family’s happiness. He decides to give them a treat – a trip to Juhu beach, where “the sea throws tiny pink shellfish at his feet”. Hoshi soon feels as helpless as the little creatures — a helplessness that threatens to engulf him on the return journey home. Once again his spirit prevails, and Hoshi succeeds in clearing the barriers both on the road and within himself.
In “Monsoon”, Sahu presents a cameo set at a bus stop. The narrator is a working woman who stays as a paying guest with a Parsi lady. She waits at the bus stop on a wet morning, and muses about her fellow commuter, a thin man, a stranger, waiting alongside, “clutching his umbrella”. Her imaginings are interrupted by the arrival of the bus, and once that journey ends, a small interaction takes place between the two.
The Auto, India’s infamous three-wheeler, takes centre stage in Sahu’s titular story “Going Home in the Rain.” The protagonist here is the woman we met in the previous story. She gets into an auto driven by a maniacal driver, in her bid to escape the rain and reach home safe and sound. Mumbai’s rains are famous for turning streets into canals and housing societies into islands. But autos are the quick frogs of Mumbai’s roadways, hopping onwards with alacrity where buses fail. In the story our girl has little choice at Andheri station, and ends up taking the madcap ride with a Hindi-movie crazy “namoona, bizarre museum specimen” of an auto driver. We take the leap of faith with her, and share her terror of the sudden detour, her flashbacks of her crime-crazy colleague’s anecdotes and news stories. And, Sahu’s prose chases us down through the by-lanes and alley ways at the end of which hot samosas await.
We return to the bus stop in the next story, and to Mrs. Britto’s paying guest, the woman whose name we do not know, although we know her by now, as well as the names of her room-mate and closest office colleagues. We meet the thin man and his tap-tapping umbrella again. But something occurs and changes an everyday morning at the bus stop. Our heroine and the thin man find themselves involved in the incident. Late for work, they decide to share a taxi, where she finally gets to have a real conversation with him. But just as the reader is convinced of a romantic conclusion, his cell phone rings, she sees Mrs Britto out of her place, hurrying down a lane, and the man sprints away to deliver his package, and she finds herself spying on him. And finally, escaping from being discovered by a whisker and managing to reach her office on time too, agog with a story from her side for her colleagues.
In “Mother”, Sahu lets us into the world of a pregnant woman, her expanding body, her shrinking world, her solicitous husband, the subsequent delivery of a healthy baby, before the world turns dark and sinister.
With “Breakfast”, Sahu sketches a deft picture of a mother-daughter relationship. The breakfast is healthy with oatmeal, a soft boiled egg and an apple. But what does the mother know about her daughter’s real appetite?
“Dhatura”, one of the longer stories in the collection submerges the reader into an entirely different world, one that even Indian mythology has chosen to gloss over. In Dhatura, Sahu introduces us to a Soorpanakha that the Ramayana refused to acknowledge. The story moves with the grace of a surreal dream, in which Soorpanakha and the monkey general she has saved from dying, learn truths about each other that they never knew could be possible. They forge ties that humans never believed could be forged. Dhatura provides a style and narrative break in the book. Not only because it deals with a theme far removed from today’s world, but also because of the subtle shift in Sahu’s prose style. Here she creates a dreamscape-like reality, intense in its emotional quotients, disturbing in the truths it throws up. A powerful reimagining of one of Ramayana’s most misrepresented characters.
“Flowers and Paper Boats” follows the travails of a US-bound techie and MBA aspirant. Written in the first person, the story is a kind of coming-of-age saga, being the longest story in the book. But in the flourish that I have come to recognise as Sahu’s signature, there is a quirky aspect or motif running through her narrative, in this case a crow. And, an ending that does not do the math according to conventional ideas of mathematics so to speak.
In “On the Spot”, an old man revisits with his wife, the place in which he had proposed to her. However this is no syrupy tale of enduring romance. The story spreads before us like a garden-scape crafted out in detail in water colour, where light is captured in all its brightness, and shadows turned into faint smudges. There is of course a keening sorrow skulking around the couple’s rendezvous, but at the very last corner of the story it is love – that final light – that dispels errant clouds.
“Hot Chillies” is a story of bereavement. A sister has passed away. A brother has come home from England to pay his respects. And the third sibling, a sister who remains, tries to bring back a semblance of the home of their childhood. Except that bereavement takes on many meanings in this sensitively portrayed story.
With “Pishi’s Room” Sahu sends us off to a cloistered by-lane of old Kolkata. A family has come visiting from Delhi, with a trip to an old aunt’s place planned as part of their itinerary. The teenaged daughter is not too eager, but having no choice resigns herself to being pawed at by a pair of babies and made to sing to a group of grown-ups. She would rather spend time with her older cousin brother with whose family they are staying. The girl ends up surprising herself when she crawls under the high bed of the old aunt, which as it runs out is Pishi’s room during the day. And in the process, she learns new things about a hunched old woman, her Pishi, and rediscovers her baby second cousins.
“The Tainted Canvas”, the last story in the collection, shifts us to India’s eastern coast, to a village near Lord Jagganath’s Temple in Puri. The protagonist Gopal is a respected artist, and a principled and pious man. Students vie to be his disciples. His peers look up to him. But corruption is a serpent with elongated fangs, and not above spitting its poison on someone like Gopal. The narrative follows his journey as a man passionate about his art and its purity to one in pursuit of material gain. The change is not visible to his disciples. But his readers can see it, as if Gopal himself is mocking the wicked world outside the pages of the book in which his story is written.
As the book draws to a close, one is drawn back to the cover, with its dark blue and green tones of a rainy evening and an auto speeding away. At the bottom is a one-line blurb by Shashi Deshpande, where she calls Monideepa Sahu: “a classic story teller”. And why not? The stories in this slim volume offer more than the weight of their words, making it impossible not to agree. Sahu has a knack for presenting startlingly clear cameos and portraitures through her prose. Her stories move quickly yet never fail to capture the details. She depicts nature with the bell-like clarity of a koel’s song. The journeys she takes her readers on, from Mysore to Bangalore to Mumbai to Chicago to Kolkata to Puri cover a gamut of emotions. Truth and deception often change places in her stories. A predictable word or two turn mysterious… However, I do have a grouse. Going Home in the Rain and Other Stories ended too quickly for me.
Link to the review:
Review by Julia Dutta
The first thing that hits you in Monideepa Sahu’s collection of stories, Going home in the rain & other stories is the easy, placid flow of words and the conversational style with which the author holds forth her stories told to her readers, as if the two were sitting in a garden or a park, just watching the world go by.
Yes, watching! For this is the second thing that strikes you about the author; it is as if there is a sense of quietude with which the author writes her stories, as if to say, she is the ‘watcher’ herself of these stories, flowing like a river before her eyes. And yes, you are mesmerized by the feeling too and read on, like you are sailing through the content of the book, without the slightest jerk or question on your mind. Not once, remember, you have had to look up the dictionary for a word.
Shashi Deshpande has said on the cover of the book, “A classic story teller”. You can believe it, because, the characters in the stories are believable, indeed, they seem to be inspired by real life characters. The language, the nuances, the location at which the stories are placed are real, and even if you have lived there many years, through the author’s eye for detail, you will begin to see, things, you always saw but never really noticed! The exceptional attention to detail, the minute observation and excellent description, the warmth in human relationships, present and memory of the past, all add to exquisite, straight from the heart writing skills you can’t avoid but see.
There are fourteen stories in all of 101 pages, of various lengths. The one pager many have a bigger punch, though, like did one story titled Mother, while a longer one, like Hoshi’s Bombay, brings home the point of coming to terms with loss of a friend, in the most touching way. Pishi’s Room, is a delightful, brilliant idea, once read, the reader might want to emulate, while Road Kill may bring tears to the eyes of the reader and throw fresh light on road rage. For me, The Tainted Canvas brought in new thoughts of creative release of anger, but really, the title story, Going home in the rain, shook me completely, as it would anyone, far away from home and yet coming ‘home’ to a new home, in a new city and experiencing lost moments with a parent, with the new ‘foster-mother’ of sorts. I loved its sense of belonging.
In the synopsis, it is written, “Everyday situations and people reveal extraordinary facets.” Indeed, this is the key to the stories. The book is light to carry and can fit into a laptop, iPad cover bag, to open at leisure and read, especially as a relaxation or for the love of good written words. But, remember, even when you have put the book down, it might be a while before the ‘silence’ of the words leave your mind.
Do enjoy and witness the stories.
Link to the review:
An Autowalla in a Muddy Monsoon
Review by Gary Presley
When reviewing for a friend or acquaintance, there’s no pretense of objectivity. However, my perception of Going Home in the Rain might be interesting if I tell you I met Monideepa Sahu through membership in The Internet Writing Workshop. When I joined the IWW, I assumed it would be a vehicle mainly occupied by North American writers. However, it is an international writing critique workshop, and I soon came to appreciate writers living in (or natives of) India the most for what they could teach me about the world.
English and Hindi are the official languages in India, and English is commonly used in business and education. Thus, interacting with writers from India, this person with a tin ear for foreign languages—me—could learn and enjoy the rich culture and heritage of the magnificent subcontinent. That’s why, if you’re like me and curious about places you’ll probably never visit, you will enjoy Sahu’s collection of fourteen short stories.
The most affecting tale is the title story, “Going Home in the Rain.” A young woman, new to Mumbai, hires an autowalla (a motorized rickshaw) for a ride to her rooming house because of a torrential downpour. Sahu’s subtext lurks in the shadows, referencing through inference a woman’s fear in a culture where rape often makes the headlines, or the idea of elementary loneliness, or feeling of being displaced—or more positively, how the kindness of strangers comes at the most unexpected moments.
Love and death, their pain and glory, weave through the narratives of stories like “On the Spot” in which an older couple remember laughter and courtship, and silently agree not to speak the name of a son gone too soon. In “Hot Chillies,” a bereft woman’s older sister has died, but when her “remote, perfect big brother” returns too late for her funeral, secrets unravel.
Those stories display Sahu’s talent for putting true-to-life characters—real people—on the page. Her settings in the stories mentioned is India, but her narratives are both different from and entirely familiar to people who live without connection to India’s culture. Sahu knows that love and family, uncertainty and regret, are universal. Settings? Yes, her settings are perfect: the rain, the heat, the gulmohar tree, the frangipangi blossom, bamboo, koels, and cranes.
But Sahu writes not of India alone. In “Flowers and Paper Boats,” Nikhil heads for Chicago, but the American Dream eludes him. A return to India turns temporary defeat into a broken heart. It is a magical story, one illustrating the ties between cultures, and the distance—and the commonalities of human emotions.
These are not post-modern stories. The people are real, and the fourteen narratives reveal soul and passion, love and fear—the stuff of everyday human life. Sahu reaches for empathy, and her stories allow us to embrace it.
A Wide Gamut of Emotions with Variations in Style
Review by Menaka S.
Going home in the rain & other stories, a collection of short stories written by Monideepa Sahu is a thin book that did not look inviting. A collection of fourteen stories each showing a slice of life that we may have experienced at some point. It starts with “A Royal Tour” – a sensitive portrayal of a mother and son visiting Mysore, where the mother used to work in her early life. The son is on the threshold of a new phase in his life, ready to go to medical school. The pangs of impending separation, the hesitation of a mother when she shares anecdotes, information and advice with a teenager son, the choice of words made it an interesting read. In particular, I found myself revisiting “belch” here.
“…This island is named Srirangapatna…”
“I know, Mom.” Siddhartha’s deep voice has an unusual, impatient edge.
I check myself from belching out more information.
“Road Kill” is a slightly gloomy read. It is short and ironical. The building of a hospital meant for saving lives, leads to the loss of a life. What amused me most in this story is the point of view – that of a monkey. Have you heard of Man-nests? The author does seem to have a way with words.
“Hoshi’s Bombay” is an event in the life of Hoshi, who could have been anyone in the city of Bombay after the Babri Masjid demolition. Hoshi is a middle class Parsi man, living a happy married life, despite his eccentricity of collecting newspapers from the day he lost his friend. The story portrays his helplessness when he sees violence outside his home. Eventually, he and his family become the victim, and that helps him finally get a closure for his loss.
“Monsoon” is the musings of a young woman, a paying guest at Mrs. Britto’s house. She imagines that the thin fellow passenger and she are caught in the Mumbai deluge – fantasies that are interrupted by the arrival of the bus.
“Going Home in the Rain” is an incident that I could easily identify with. All of us would have had one of those days, when the circumstances force us to take risks and go through an ordeal, with our hearts in our mouth, till the ordeal is over and a happy ending embraces us. The young woman of the previous story, on a rainy day in Mumbai, takes a ride in an auto. The auto driver is an eccentric who screams Bollywood songs and takes her through by-lanes and gullies. There is even a turn into a dead-end road and a fallen waste-bin which forces him to stop the auto. Isn’t this setting sufficient to set up an equivalent anxiety in us? What a relief when the auto fellow eventually takes her to her accommodation, and the added bonus to have someone concerned waiting, not to mention the hot samosas. Mentally, I pictured myself wringing my clothes and towelling my hair. I had a 3D movie experience.
“Bus stop” seems to be an extension of “Monsoon”, another first person narrative of the young woman in the previous two stories. As she waits along with the thin man and another woman in the bus stop, they see a stranger fall down with convulsions. Finally, this incident forces the young woman and the thin man to interact. They decide to share a taxi to work to compensate for the delay and she finds some surprises at the end of the ride. Another slice of life!
“Mother” is the story of a new mother – her anticipation, her changes in physical and mental state until eventually the baby is born. With a sleight of hand, both the author and the mother give a twist to the tale that left me gaping. Monideepa Sahu arrives in style in this story.
“Breakfast” is a scene that we may witness in many households. A typical morning scene where a concerned mother insists on a heavy, healthy breakfast and the overfed appetite-less child struggles. How the child finds relief from her condition is also commonplace. What is striking in the story is the way the author has captured the trail of emotions that run through the child during the ordeal.
“Dhatura” is a detour from the realistic settings in the stories afore. A retelling of a slice of Ramayana from the point of view of Soorpanaka. The princess, chewing on a Dhatura gets into a playful mood, the cost is the fate that she is pushed to and the rest of the Ramayana. When she saves a monkey soldier from the battlefield after the war is over, and they feel a relationship building between them, ties unforeseen. She foresees her sweet revenge against the human world.
“Flowers and Paper Boats“, a first person narrative of a programmer heading to the US, his story about his survival in the US and his return to unite with his sweetheart. At every point, his expectations seem to fall flat, yet how does he cope with these situations? Mr. Poe, the friendly crow is always at his side.
When an old man and his wife revisit and reminisce “On the Spot” where he had proposed to his wife, love takes forefront, notwithstanding hidden sorrows.
“Hot Chilies” is the probably my most favourite in the collection. When Meera’s much-older brother Shankar comes to India to mourn their sister Lakshmi’s passing away, can they resume their relationship that was suspended long back? Much as I loved the story, I loved the metaphorical reference to the crushed fallen gulmohar flowers and fresh ones replacing them. Isn’t that the philosophy of life?
“Pishi’s Room” is the story of a teenager visiting her extended family in Kolkata. When she reluctantly leaves her cousin’s company at the place where they stay to visit an old aunt, Pishi, she does not know that she would find a hidden side of herself at the end of the day. In Pishi’s ramshackle home in congested surroundings, adults turn to delicacies and chatter. Children tend to annoy the teenager and she takes recourse under the high bed, which Pishi has turned into her room. It is here that she discovers Pishi, as a person, a woman with a personality and her own interests. A warm story that shows a teenager’s new sense of understanding.
“The Tainted Canvas” is the story of the talented artist Gopal, based in Puri, who has his pure and pious principles with regards to painting. For a man who considers his art as his dharma, it comes as a shock when he understands the reality behind his sale of a painting to a London-based art dealer through a middleman.
Monideepa Sahu is brilliant and evocative as a short story writer. The ease with which she is able to capture a wide gamut of emotions into words, build scenes that are oh-so familiar and handle variations in style is her strength. It is a collection of predominantly sad stories and leaves one with a heavy heart at the end of it. I would have preferred some joyous stories as well to be thrown into the collection. The cover page, which again has a gloomy feel, could have been more appealing.
Editor’s note: the review at the following link is brief but the readers’ comments are worth reading: