Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Premise: 'Escaping The Mirror' by Farah Ghuznavi, reviewed by Nidhi Arora

Escaping The Mirror by Farah Ghuznavi
Reviewed by Nidhi Arora

‘Escaping the mirror’ by Farah Ghuznavi is a story about a seven-year-old girl, Dia, who is accosted repeatedly by a young man employed by her family. This man, Minhas, is her father’s driver. A friendship that appears innocent at first, turns ugly as Minhas begins to make inappropriate advances. When Dia protests, he threatens to tell her family, who he claims will believe him over her. The seven-year-old girl does not find this difficult to accept. On the rare occasions when she does muster the courage to tell her parents, they fail to understand or believe her. This, more than Minhas’s fearless stalking, lies at the heart of the story.

Her parents are righteous and pious and treat their servants well. When little Dia tells them in her seven-year-old vocabulary that she doesn’t like the way Minhas looks at her, they make light of it. Instead, they pull her up for not liking him because he is a servant. Is it blind trust, naivety or plain burying their head in sand for an issue too uncomfortable to acknowledge? Whatever it is, Minhas knows it and feeds on it.

With no one to talk to, Dia comes to believe that this is happening to her because she is indeed a ‘bad person’. Left on her own to defend herself against this menace lurking everywhere in her house, she develops her own tactics. She becomes physically alert, looking over her shoulder to make sure he is not around, avoids playing in places where he might have access to her. The once exuberant girl becomes quiet and introverted. Again, no one notices, let alone trying to find out why.

Over time Minhas gives up stalking her actively, but continues to stare at her from the rear-view mirror. Dia is unable to escape his stares in the confines of the car. That Minhas does not physically abuse her and eventually goes away from her life comes as little relief.

Years later, there comes a moment when Dia tells her father what happened and he finally understands. As the realisation dawns on him, he holds his head in hands.

The very little that is said about the mother throughout the story, speaks volumes about her role in her daughter’s life. It is also, perhaps, a broader comment on women’s failure to stand up for each other in matters of personal dignity and shame.

The story is told in a simple and direct style, which helps to deliver this distressing account of a young girl’s loss of childhood and innocence in its full impact. We are not told where and when this happens, which is just as well, because it is a universal story. In light of the recent #MeToo revelations, it is a powerful reminder that abuse is often very close at home and that the loneliness of the ordeal is sometimes more painful than the ordeal itself.

Reviewer Nidhi Arora’s ‘It Is in The Eyes’ appeared in Out of Print’s September 2018 edition.

Monday, April 8, 2019

Out of Print 33

Out of Print 33 pays tribute to two literary figures of the subcontinent, the Urdu writer, Mustansar Hussain Tarar who celebrated his eightieth birthday at the beginning of March, and the Hindi writer, Krishna Sobti who passed away in January this year. We present a translation by Daisy Rockwell titled ‘The Currency Has Changed’ of Sobti’s first short story that Sobti said, launched her as a writer. We thank Raza Naeem for bringing our attention to Tarar’s birthday and sending us his translation of the story ‘Baba Bagloos’. It weaves around the brutality inherent in the system that resulted in the hanging of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto.
We also feature two love stories. Parineeta Singh’s ‘The House on Fox Hill’,draws the reader in with its charming, hopeful yet ineffectual protagonist who brings to mind some of the young men in R K Narayan’s stories. His winsome young neighbour’s interest in his adventures as a detective in a haunted house, lead to the realisation of his love. Ewa Mazierska ‘Shopping And Longing In Goa’ is set in Panjim and is told from the point of view of a tourist shopping in the city. An outsider, she views each small overture with scepticism. As she wanders through the city, drinking tea and buying things she does not need, one particularly brusque shopkeeper changes the course of her journey.
Other works in the edition are by Noor Niamat Singh’s and Ananya Dasgupta’s. Noor Niamat Singh’s ‘The Semicircle of Life’, her first publication, is an extraordinary journey into the mind of a young woman as she identifies emotional and psychological rafts to help her maintain stability as she deals with an unstable mother, a concerned circle of loved ones and a pregnancy she feels distanced and detached from.
‘Regret’ by Ananya Dasgupta is a sensitive and honest examination of a young woman’s foray into being a teacher’s aide to a couple of underprivileged children in Boston. A chance encounter, many years later, brings the narrator face to face with her inability to break through to one young man and the many layers of regret embodied therein.
The art work, the extraordinary ‘Leaking Lines (Radcliffe Line)’ by Reena Saini Kallat, 2018 references the boundary demarcation line between the Indian and Pakistani portions of the Punjab and Bengal provinces of undivided India that was published on 17 August 1947.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Premise: 'Chennai Summer' by Natasha Gayari, reviewed by Michelle D'costa

Chennai Summer by Natasha Gayari
Reviewed by Michelle D’costa

The title signifies the loss of control we have over seasons. 'Chennai' makes it specific and memorable to the narrator. She knows it is not here to stay and will change soon, out of her control.

Natasha's story has two characters, a guy and a girl. It is narrated from the girl's point of view. What the writer conveys through this story about relationships, identity, conversation, acceptance, denial etc. is thought- provoking. In the simplest of language, she conveys so much. The story begins as a conversation she is having with her boyfriend. Inserted amidst the bits of dialogues on the phone, Natasha gives us background info on their relationship. What is it? Can you categorise their relation? Is it love? When is it casual? When is it serious?

Her boyfriend was with her in Bangalore and is now in Chennai. Before leaving, he confessed that he loves her, and it surprised her. The girl remembers her past relationships when she was 'crazy in love'. Here are a few lines from the story:

‘I have set off on such trips before, years ago, I don’t remember exactly how many. Booked a plane ticket that had cost me half of my salary from my first job to meet a guy across the country. They don’t take up much space in my memory now. My heart was in a frenzy throughout the flight. The date of that journey had become my default password to many of my login ids, until I changed all of them a couple of years later.’

Now, the girl is realistic and wary of a possibility with her present partner. She wonders if his parents would accept her, she imagines visiting Chennai, but we know that she's not as invested in the relationship as he is. By the end the reader knows that the girl doesn't see a future  with the guy as he's going to leave for the US.

She is in a low phase in her life, bored with her job and knows the relationship will end soon but can't end it. This feeling of helplessness, not able to change things or do anything about it leaves the reader feeling they can relate and empathise with the narrator. A wonderful story. Highly recommend.

Michelle D’costa is a writer and the editor and runs the literary journal Kaani. She was long listed in the DNA-OUT of PRINT short story contest in 2015, 2016 and 2017.