Chandigarh’s Randeep Wadhera has recently come out with a work of fiction, Walls and Other Stories. Aradhika Sekhon catches up with the writer and Aruti Nayar reviews the book

A profile in courage
Aradhika Sekhon

Randeep Wadehra’s writings encompass a wide range of themes
Randeep Wadehra’s writings encompass a wide range of themes. — Photo by Malkiat Singh

"NOT only do you look like Napoleon, you also talk like him," said the Brigadier as he towered over the diminutive Indian-Army aspirant. This young man had the temerity to demand to know the reason for his non-selection to the Forces. And throughout the 48 years of his life, he has demanded answers to the tough questions that life has posed to him and come to terms with tough setbacks.

Randeep has a wealth of creative output to his credit. A regular columnist with a leading daily, Randeep has reams of poetry, reviews, short stories and satires to his credit. Only recently, his first book of short stories, Walls and Other Stories, has come out. "Its been published by a Chandigarh-based publisher but, please, its not a vanity publication," clarifies Randeep. In addition, he has two books of poetry coming up for publication. "One of them comprises pure love poetry and the other has a variety of themes like nature, society and humour." Randeep says that the love poetry "has the feeling of deep romance, passion and also some bitterness"

"In India it is hard to publish something unless you know someone or have won something big in the West," he quips. However, his never-say-die attitude has got him thus far and he believes that he has miles to go before he is done. "Appreciation has been my muse," he says. "I wrote for some publications and then I started posting my poems on the Web. That’s where I got some praise and slowly my confidence as well as my stock of poems started growing and finally when my publisher showed interest in printing my work, all I had to do was select from the work I had ready." In fact, a few of his short stories included in his recent book have already been published in some British and Canadian magazines.

However, all of his poetry did not generate appreciation. "There was a poem that I wrote some years ago, an ‘intellectual’ one that I was really proud of and I sent it to a local paper through my father," he recollects with a grin. "First, my father totally disowned it. Said it was too obscure. Then the editor tore it apart`85there was a red mark or a circle in every line and I was kindly instructed to write poems that people would understand. I licked my wounds for a couple of days and as you see, I am at it again, this time, hopefully with more comprehensible stuff."

Randeep has had more than his share of hard times. A chronic spondylitis attack froze his hip joints completely and it’s been almost 20 years since Randeep has been able to move his body. The attack happened just when he was settling into matrimony and fatherhood. After the illness, not only did his wife divorce him but he was also removed from his job at the Bank of Travencore without any emoluments or gratuity.

However, his family has been very loving and supporting. One of his sisters has even decided not to get married till Randeep is on his feet again. "Our mother was the source of our strength. She was the backbone of the family. When she died it seemed as if the bedrock of our existence had slipped and we were left floundering," says Randeep. "Some of the best poems in my compilation are inspired by and dedicated to her."

Randeep has had eclectic influences directing his creativity. When he was six, his teacher in a school in Kanpur, Mrs. Philomena Fernandes, gave him the opportunity to star in the role of Abraham Lincoln, "in spite of my short and roly-poly stature". In Central School Delhi, his was considered the best rendition of Subhadra Kumari Chauhan’s Jhansi ki Rani. The Principal of his school in Bangalore introduced him to Enid Blyton and most remarkable of all, it was his milkman in the same city who got him hooked to Leo Tolstoy.

Although confined indoors for the last couple of decades, Randeep’s love for life has remained intact and although he is not "out there doing it", his window to the world affords a view of far horizons.

Varied shades of life
Aruti Nayar

Walls and Other Stories
by Randeep Wadehra. Unistar Publications. Rs 195.
Pages 124.

Walls and Other StoriesRandeep Wadehra’s anthology of 15 short stories, Walls And other stories, does not have a single theme or linear thread that binds them. With deft strokes and a skilful pen, he writes with a vigour and passion that is a natural’s. Written primarily in the realistic mode, they are descriptive and evocative. Whether it is pain or joy mingled with pathos, the writer captures fine nuances of varied hues of life in an eminently readable style. Since the canvas is vast and the range wide, reading the stories is experiencing an entire gamut of emotions—from anger, self-pity, humour, pathos and simmering violence to tender, almost lyrical, love, ardour and seething passion. If The rendezvous in Cyberia is a riveting and poignant tale where a father ‘encounters’ the daughter he has never seen on the Net, A parched rose and Our house atop the lonely hill and Images, resonate with loss, pain of separation and resentment. They deal with the betrayal, be it by death or by circumstances and fickleness of the beloved.

It is the title story Walls that reveals superb craftsmanship and a psychological realism, with the narrative shifting back and forth to synchronise with the memories and thoughts of the protagonist. It is this story, well structured and racy, that gives the reader a feeling that Wadehra’s strength lies not in the realistic mode but in capturing the landscape of the mind and the psychological ebb and flow of the subconscious—an area that he needs to explore in later works.The bare walls of the the empty flat in Bombay are a metaphor for the main character’s barrenness and the abrupt end of his rocky marriage.

Up the star-spangled garden path, The French Connection and Dreams gone awry make a tellingcomment on the way institutions have been subverted by individuals. He builds up humourous situations and etches well-rounded characters with an economy of expression. Veiled irony and subtly sardonic tone help sharpen the effect. Be it Ricky, an aspiring poet’s ambition, rather desperation, to be noticed and the entire web of deceit and hypocritical attitudes of the so-called aficionados of poetry who are supposed to talent hunt but in reality are racketeers is amazingly true to life.

At times, however, one feels there is no objectivity and no distance between the mind that suffers and the mind that creates. If nostalgia and an intensely felt recollection of trauma experienced gives Wadehra’s fictional landscape the ring of sincerity and cadence of the spoken word, it also hinders his growth as a consummate story teller. It is important for a story teller to objectify the situation and make it transcend from a personal outpouring to a universal truth.

Comfortable with the rhythms of language, his art as a story teller is indisputable. It is the structuring and the craft that needs honing.

Well brought out with an evocative cover, Walls And other stories, holds the promise of many more riveting collections to come.