Slice of modern life
Ramesh Luthra

Zanibar Bed and Other Stories
by Rajeshwar Singal. Shilpayan Books, Delhi.
Pages 248. Rs 300.

this bouquet of short stories is Rajeshwar Singal’s maiden contribution to this genre. A true-to-life and pithy picture of society is presented before us. The stories have been written with a purpose undoubtedly. “Betrayal is a part of normal human behaviour,” the author remarks in Forword. This forms the recurring theme of the stories herein. Instead of an imaginative world, he offers a slice of life, a down-to-earth scenario in which the reader involves himself unknowingly.

Rajeshwar Singal focuses on this aspect of human life in one or the other form. Martial infidelity is a predominant theme we come across herein. Ajit at Fifty is based on the famous fairy tale Lion, Lion, where the protagonist plans a well thought-out and meticulous attempt of getting his wife murdered, though the later survives by sheer chance. In Goldie, there is the lust for life and contempt for a dutiful husband that makes the heroine Goldie imagine her son and husband being devoured by a lion. Thereafter, she will be free to live with the man of her choice. Here the writer makes good use of irony. Happiness eludes her because her first love dies while the second man betrays her.

Zanibar Bed, which forms the title of the book, is an engaging story of infidelity. Interestingly, the protagonists don’t know who initiated it and who is more of a culprit . Ganesha betrays Shakshi, but is in for the shock of life that Rajiv knew about the Zanzibar Bed and was following her to the US.

The writer provides us a healthy criticism of the society around us. In Seers, he has a dig at the so-called holy men who profess to predict our future and solve our problems but cann’t foresee their own future. Carpetbaggers exposes the nexus between politicians, senior bureaucrats and their touts. Obviously, the common man is at their mercy and gets a raw deal from them because he can’t meet heavy demands made on his pocket. Rightly does the hero say: “I had been the fool of the century for not having made any money and yet landing up in deep shit.” While one appreciates the theme of the story, yet it being split under different heads like Tomcat, Vultures et al deprives it of its charm. Moreover, in the very beginning he acts like a moral teacher. Wish he had treated the story as a piece of literature only.

A whiff of fresh air is introduced into the collection by the story Space which depicts the modern Indian society sans any moral values. It retains our interest till the end. Written in an e-mail form, it comes as a change to the reader after a heavy dose of moralising.

Jacobpura to…. is another engaging piece that provides us a glimpse of Generation X—pushing and just hungry for money and status throwing all other considerations to the winds. It is a true picture of Gurgaon at the moment. Swami exposes the so-called saintly men who move in the corridors of power and wield respect and devotion among people who want their work done by the powers to be.

The author has the knack of retaining suspense till the end. Nowhere does the interest slacken. For example, the element of horror is created in Roadmaster and the Birdman, the moment the guests chance upon boss. Simply a hint is thrown to the reader about boss’s intimacy with the maid, Jenny. This leads to the climax when oblivious of the tragedy in the family, the boss is found chatting intimately with Jenny in the kitchen. It is a sudden twist in the end that lends a special charm to the stories.

Picturesque description of nature in Africa steals the show. In a couple of stories this aspect adds to their readability. Richness of expression comes in whenever he describes the female character and nature.

Somehow, as one lays down the book the uniformity of theme throughout seems odd and irksome. The author shouldn’t have seen life only through tinted glasses. The reader does expect a little relief from the stark reality around him to cope with life. It is conspicuous by itself over here. Perhaps the writer is so keen to stress his point that he acquaints us with what we are going to read before the story itself. This oddity in fact proves a discordant note. On the whole, one appreciates his zeal to highlight the moral depravity, sycophancy, corruption and greed our society has landed in.