Each of the stories in this release of Out of Print has a resonance with an aspect of the cover image by Suki Dhanda, perhaps because it captures something of what the narrator in Gilead (Picador, 2004) by the remarkable Marilynne Robinson says of people: ‘… I am struck by a kind of incandescence in them, the “I” whose predicate can be “love” or “fear” or “want”, and whose object can be “someone” or “nothing” and it won’t really matter because the loveliness is just in that presence, shaped around “I” like a flame on a wick emanating itself in grief and guilt and joy and whatever else.’
In Word Sanctuary by Meenakshi Chawla, one writer visits another. We discover that their relationship is based in a staggering amorality that the protagonist, despite his fine sensitivity, is compelled to exploit. Shom Biswas' The Other Transgression also tells the story of a character who is driven, this time by loyalty to friend and fraternity, to make a profound and ugly compromise that directly impacts him.
Sathya Saran's, The Lost Note, brings alive the particular and intimate dynamic of orchestral musicians as the flautist awaits his final cue. The imagery has the quality of a dream filled with anxious twists and a yearning for that elusive lost note. Also about finality, Kaushiki Rao's Obituary raises questions of fairness in a situation whose larger structures are outside of ones control. Stylistically, it is an obituary that lays out the life achievements of the dead individual who, in this case, is an insect.
Neeta Deshpande's, The Recounter of Memories leaves us with a sense of resignation and sadness, but also of courage. A woman on the brink of a divorce visits her old home. All that she is leaving behind impresses itself upon her, but at the same time, she examines the levels of breakdown that make it impossible for her to stay. Another story about marriage, Divya A's Bride Barter is all the more brutal for being based on real stories that she encountered as a journalist in rural Haryana. Savitha Devi is torn because her fifteen-year-old daughter is being given in marriage as barter for her son's bride.
In contrast to the inherent cruelties in the previous two stories, Roshna Kapadia's Mrs Aggarwal's Mirror, carries the kind of closure that indents a sense of human grace. Set in the countryside of a changing India, it spans generations and lifestyles, and plays with the inevitable ironies of a complex and multi-layered world. The Love Letter by Madhumita Roy is also based in the great divides that course through the landscape of Indian society; Priyambada Sen, whose view is framed by the English literature she teaches, is full of hope as she contemplates writing a love letter to a man who cannot read.
With searing and disturbing imagery, Niven Govinden's Grains follows a photographer who is recording man taming the wild for his purpose. She is an observer, reconciled to the fact that she has 'no power to stop anything'.