Fantasy islands
Aditi Garg

The Remix of Orchid
by A.N. Nanda. Pages 350. Rs 250.

The Remix of OrchidIT is no easy job to tread the unknown path. And it is that element of unknown that lends it the mystical spark. A story can be made or marred by the very setting or the locales and the surroundings. The Andaman Islands have only recently come to be associated with beautiful scenic landscapes and multi-starred resorts, but for a really long time they have been connected with dungeons so dreaded that only those sentenced to rigorous imprisonment were to go and toil there for the rest of their lives. To set not one but 23 stories in such a place is indeed commendable.

The premise of the book is the authorís belief that in spite of all the semblance of immutability, something is in the making here. The Remix of Orchid is a versatile collection of stories reflecting an array of human (and spectral) attributes. With a foreword by Ruskin Bond that applauds the writerís ingenuity, it is a book that doesnít disappoint. The author has an impressive educational background and has worked as an Indian Postal Services officer at the Andaman and Nicobar islands. It echoes in the insight that he has shown in understanding the local subjects, terrain and climate. The whole book is so cozy in its setting that it could not have been written for another place. He has also written another book of short stories, The Roadshow, and a collection of poems, In Harness.

The path least travelled is often the most enigmatic. The book starts with the emotional tale of a family who has lost their son when he was small and depicts their dilemma when faced with the possibility of accepting an imposter as their own. In a totally different tune is The Salvation, which revolves around a ghost being. His unfinished aspirations keep him tied to the world. Each story seems to be bound by an invisible chain of thoughts that leads the reader to the point of culmination seemingly effortlessly. Most of them revolve around everyday situation, making it even easier to relate to them. Like the woman who has little money to go visit her dying mother evokes empathy in The Golden Trip. Then there is one about the village pundit who has to make the most difficult choices to survive, even doing the work of a scavenger but he takes it all in his stride.

The author time and again puts forth situations and the characters seem to take on a life of their own. The heartbreaking story of Manglu resonates in the mind and you canít help feeling sorry for him. A hockey teamís rise to stardom seems very attainable after the widely-acclaimed movie Chak De! India.

The book is not without irony and wit. The oft-repeated story of post office bungles takes on a different hue, though he could have refrained from stretching it to the point of referring to the department as ĎPostal God.í

The book provides some interesting tidbits as well. There are places named after their distance from the Zero Point, say Forty-Six-Kilometers, which he uses as a setting for one of his stories. After another story he confesses how tempted he was to include something about a tsunami, just to make it sound prophetic. The book fares well though at places the stories tend to get a bit filmy. The author serves a multi-cultural fare that is united by only one common thread, the Andaman and Nicobar islands.