Sunday, October 19, 2003

Stories of love, loss and loneliness
Harbir K. Singh

Loving Ayesha and Other Stories
by Victor Rangel-Ribeiro. Harper Collins, New Delhi. Pages 223. Rs 250.

Loving Ayesha and Other StoriesWE have here 12 stories that take the reader to the villages and towns of the West coast of India and at times to the concrete canyons of New York. Victor Rangel-Ribeiro himself belonged to Goa and migrated to Bombay in 1939. The stench of the seaside is unmistakable in many of his stories. The streets and trams of Bombay take us down the memory lane.

These are stories that bring a smile on the face and yet there are a few that bring tears. The Specials of the Day is a sweet story of Jerome who meets a smart, young Indian woman at a writers' conference at Paris who gives her name as Marguerite as she thinks that that name sounds elegant. How Jerome prepares to woo and propose to her in proper style makes one smile.

Some stories tug at oneís heartstrings. Lonely Aging Chinese-American New York Neighbour Lady is the story of an aging Indian women living with her son Ganpat in New York, where no one has time for anyone. She stays alone the whole day, unable to go anywhere. She sees a Chinese woman doing all the work herself without any help. One day the Indian woman makes the effort of crossing the crowded street, and goes to her house to talk. The description of how they laugh together and discuss their lives without understanding each otherís languages is touching.

The title story, Loving Ayesha, is the story of a youth who gets only misery from love. A student, he falls in love with a girl who becomes a nun. Subsequently, he happens to fall madly in love all over again with her sister, who, too, becomes a nun. For a very long time he is absolutely shattered and unable to forget her. The Quit India Movement, which serves as a backdrop for Loving Ayesha, gives the story a charged atmosphere.

The writer has created a specific ambience for each story. Depending on the plot, we are taken to New York, or to villages and towns on the West coast of India. The characters in all the stories are real and believable.

The simple language used conveys the feelings and emotions of the characters in a manner that one can identify with. While a few stories have repetitive situations, which tend to drag, on the whole they are light, and enjoyable.