Spirits come calling

Just Beyond: Short Stories
by Anjan Ray. Stellar Om Books International. Pages 251. Rs 195.

Just Beyond: Short StoriesThis collection of short stories deals with the experiences with the supernatural, which are hard to believe. Anjan Ray claims that he has heard people narrate incidents that are beyond explanation. He admits in Preface that the title of the book was inspired by the Nobel laureate physicist William Fowler’s lecture: "Everything we consider supernatural is probably sitting just beyond the boundaries of science as we know it."

The narratives collected here by the author are put in the form of short stories. Sometimes, the experiences of two people have been deftly woven into one short story. It is a clever attempt and he succeeds in his endeavour. The reader comes to know about it only because of Ray’s confession in Preface. But this spinning of tales into one is definitely an achievement.

Some stories are based on writer’s own experiences, for example, Bird in Flight and Influential Confluence. The former story tells about the greediness of people. So we have Ajay Shankar, a science teacher in Karanjia whose wonderful ideas were nipped in the bud because they were ahead of time, for the villagers were ignorant. Yet he was revered by one and all for his wisdom and knowledge. His sublime existence comes to a halt when his younger brother, Sanjay, comes to stay with him and murders him by keeping a cobra on his bed. And all for property! But Ajay’s pet, a wild eagle that has seen it all, takes revenge by throwing a snake on Sanjay, which bites him to death. Though "natural justice" has been done, it is difficult to believe.

Another story, Coffee-Maker, also talks of deceit vis-à-vis sincerity of people. A man, Suraj Marwah, hands over his empire to his son, Achal. The former had valued human relationships and had built his career and wealth with the help of his staff. On the other hand, "the son weighed all value in pieces of silver". This attitude of Achal leads him to his ruin, for he believes in substituting people with crass machines. A machine refuses to accept the inhumane attitude and revolts. An interesting reading!

There are other stories that send a shiver down your spine, and The Hand that Rocked the Cradle is one of them. It tells what havoc a confused upbringing can bring about on a child as it grows into an adult. A story, Clean, tells about a lady’s fetishness with cleanliness, though in the process, she has turned into a cannibal. Eating human flesh but still cleaning it before and after devouring. Such stories leave you with a bad taste in the mouth.

The stories like In Search of the Lost Chord and The Past Time give a spooky feeling. The latter talks of spirits and how one can call them and know the future. And the spirits are "right"! They predict your future but get ready to know the stark realities, which would have otherwise unfolded gradually with time. But some price has to be paid for your curiosity for looking into the future, the unknown, which according to God’s scheme should remain so.

There are some tales, which are touching and seem real. The Pine Tree is one of them in which the tree falls killing the two men who wanted to molest the guest in the house. The caretaker, who is dead, apparently comes in the form of a spirit to protect his partner and the guesthouse from shame. Monday Miracle is another story, which can be related for prizes are won through crosswords etc., which change your life forever. Other stories like Animal Instinct in which Umesh, a young boy, and Sheru, the tiger, talk and understand each other seems unreal.

The book is for people who believe in the supernatural. For the others, it is confusing as it forces you to recollect if anything like those mentioned here have ever occurred in one’s life. Meant for light reading, the end of most of the stories leaves you hesitant and full of suspense. The reader can only feel a slight chill but can flip to the next story hoping it to be more real.