Long on insight
Kanchan Mehta

Blind Manís Buff: Scintillating Short Stories
by Chetan Joshi.
Stellar. Pages 383. Rs 295.

In the preface to his maiden collection of Scintillating Short Stories, the writer, Chetan Joshi, justifies the strange title, Blind Manís Buff, which pertains to a childrenís game : "The game begins when you pick up the book... you senses, are, infact, sharper than ever, through you are blinded to the world... browsing through the stories".

Life to him is blind manís buff, "though we feel that our eyes are open, we are all blind `85 or else would there have been so many blunders, the way we let opportunities whiz past and invite misfortune instead?"

One is stuck by the sheer variety of narrative forms the writer employs to produce this collection. He juggles with "a modern love story, a medieval fantasy, a conventional horror story, a naughty moral fable `85"

The Dream Membrane, The Obituary of a Killer, The Echo of Yesterday and Life Between Commercial Breaks, lose their effect due to the poor story line.

The maiden story, The Oldest Memory, mingles pathos with humour. Had the writer condensed the narrative, it would have been more effective. The pregnant Vasundraís death while delivering the twins is heart-rending. The rivalry between the twins is quite amusing. They play the game of blind manís buff to tease each other. The writer underlines how senses of a child, lying in the womb, act sharply, like those of one whose eyes are covered in the game, blind manís buff.

Racy and insightful, Sin Delicious gives prominence to eroticism, the prime impulse of man. The writer highlights manís intense craving for "a nameless woman", somewhere "in a hidden room" and "on a secret day" and how he swings between lust and morals before stepping into "rich and breathlessly delicious experience of lust".

In the same story the writer comments on the relationship of film to audience and book to readers and the writer to the reader. He much prefers a book to a film because : "A film never allows you (the audience) the privilege of a personal, honest dialogue `85 A book provides all those licenses. In its pages you enter a room with not a even a mirror to make you conscious `85"

In Momentary My Dear, a married man surrenders to lust/physical relationship and suffers a pang of guilt. He realizes that lust-sheer lust whether within or without legal orbit grants only momentary, trifling pleasure. The story ends on a ironic note: "it was all over in a moment, but isnít love momentary Ė love or the lack of il?"

Between Shadow and Mirage is a revelation of an artistís mind and heart Ė his curiosity to see the perfect beauty i.e miraze. He leaves his wife (shadow) behind and sets out in search of miraze. The heart-rending Birth of a Myth, reveals frailties of heart. The strong bond between Rakshas, a demon and a rainbow coloured Pakshi, a bird comes under stress when the beautiful bird is taken by a Manav, a puny human being. The Parot explains her daring." Does love need a reason ?" The Rakshas, ferocious at having been deceived kills the bird ferociously and himself dies.

The Echo of Yesterday is a fictional retelling of medieval fantasy related to the force of legendary Tansenís voice. It was believed that Tansenís magical voice could bring down the rains or light up lamps. The story explains how.

The Oracle, a truly moving story captures vividly the stronghold of religion on simple minded villagers depicting a touching episode in the life of poor villagers. Enticed by the illiterate Khndu, a blacksmith, who claims to be the oracle, the villagers part with their thumbs as offering to Ma Bhadrakalii to save their lands from the cruel mortgagee. Khandu, an unforgettable character, saves the villagers from the devastating blow, with a sacred weapon.

One Naughty Noodle String, basically a hilarious narrative, in a suggestive manner, raises uncomfortable truths about modern society, where relationships and things "dangle dangerously on the mood of a naughty string." Ė have become naughty.

Life Between Commercial Breaks portrays contemporary reality, highlighting how T.V. sops, integral to modern life, educating the adolescents of Ďtricks of life", have reduced schools to "senseless charade". The story also amuses us showing the way T.V. sops are commented upon during commercial breaks.

Set in Pune, Call of the Coconut Scourer, a ghastly tale of gruesome murders digs at society for raising psychopaths. The Pebble offers a critique of the city, with fixed standards and formulas, which robs one of oneís individuality, whereas "freedom" and "abandon" characterize nature. The Woods are Dark and Deep is a horror story, where the narrator tries to come to terms with his fears. The story depicts fear as "a four-letter world thatís rather relative. One manís euphoria can be another manís phobia. It may not be rational, but it is certainly real. There is one more thing there is no such thing as overcoming fear. You may learn clever ways to camouflage it `85"

At the Carnival and Payback are gripping narratives of revenge, where the trickster is paid back in the same coin. A Roomful of Mangoes is a sensitive portrayal of poverty, frustration and eccentricity. The central character goes to the extent of setting his grand house on fire just to get a roomful of mangoes.

In Big Bully, the small and clever triumph over the physically strong. That there is safety in numbers is the message of Just One Flaw. The Chase is a picturesque description of life "as a duel between the desire to kill and desire to live."