Revealing portrait of society
Kanchan Mehta

Conflict and Other Stories
by Shubham Gupta. Frogbooks.
Pages 198. Rs 250.

Conflict and Other StoriesTHE 20 absorbing stories in this collection provide a revealing portrait of the present social reality, human moods and truths of life. All the devices of short fiction—irony, satire, sarcasm, wit, satire, metaphor, character and situation—are well exploited. The interplay of suspense and surprise lends vitality to these stories. The proper integration of realism with fictional narrative makes the book an artistic success

There is an urgency of introspection in the first story, My Sketches, of aramita_b(a)yahoochat, a young girl . The writer is annoyed with himself for having been so vile to his chat friend, Aramita, a "na Fve", "innocent", "unassuming", damsel, a victim of premature death: "Why should I have had to be such a heartless fellow? Why am I such a coward who can do nothing except hurting people".

A curious irony is exhibited in The Little Region Between Black and White. The writer got hypnotised by the bodily beauty of the divorcee Anjali and her daughter Aakriti, whereas the mother and the daughter nursed love for him.

Shubham Gupta’s comic spirit is at its best in his humorous focus on Chennai buses. Why Chennai Buses have Overwhelmed Me brings out ironic significance of over-stuffed, smoky and green-coloured Chennai buses, which to the author are "Chennai’s greatest treasure". He says sarcastically: "Where, it not for its buses, aplenty, Chennai, I believe by now, would have lost much of its sheen."

The writer takes a romantic view of an inconvenient Chennai bus ride: "You experience the people, then smell, their warmth, their love...that mankind is a vast creation and you are but an insignificant entity."

All Men are not Thugs is a humourous account of the writer’s deception by an imposter Dr Ravilochan in a 17-C bus: "A safe heaven for pickpockets. The ratio being out of every given people in bus, one is a thug."

The Avichi School Bus Stand, Chennai satirizes folly, pretentiousness and incongruity in human behaviour, presenting a gallery of comic portraits, sharply etched.

A story, The Teacher the World Missed, paints a gloomy picture of the teaching profession, portraying a highly conscientious teacher Mrs Sarmenta’s confrontation with a school bully, Bob.

The First Date contains a ribald criticism of degrading and exploitative "chic culture" in "the wild city" Banglore. Characterised by licence and unhealthy excess, the "chic culture" commodifies women.

The writer concentrates on man’s vulnerability to fear, anxiety, poverty, age, fatal ailments, death, providence and religious and superstitious terror. The 12th September Lady and My Cigarette Lighter tell of the protagonist’s encounter with an apparition, on the stormy night of 12th September. Replete with mystery, horror and chilly terror, the macabre tale reflects nebulous, mysterious and complex character of life.

"There are some points in life when all braveness melts down to mere fear of untold and the unseen".

The narratives, The Moral Science Class, A Doctor’s Miracle and A Patient’s Mind and The Truth of A Lies are O’ Henry type, "surprise and shock the reader" stories. They mirror precariousness of human frame and efficacy of compassion/love/lies for patients. The focal point is that severe physical ailments can be cured with doses of sympathy and affection.

There are close parallels between Mother’s Love and the title story, Conflict, both fine, psychological tales. The plots of the stories, against the rural backdrop, deal with mother-son relationship.

The concluding story, A Slice of Stranger, digs at hypocritical social strictures that kill human longing for freedom.

Every story in this book has something extraordinary. The characters come alive, portraying life, human emotions and the social milieu.