Glimpses of life

Spotting Veron and Other Stories
By Ankush Saikia.
Rupa. Pages 182. Rs 195.

Reviewed by Aditi Garg

EVEN the simplest of lives have facets that fascinate, surprise, tickle and sadden. There are no ordinary people, only untold stories. Stories from around us and about the things that touch our lives are more engaging as we can relate to them. The expanse of our country provides for a wide variety of traditions, customs, landscapes and ethnicity. Everything seems very different and is yet, so similar. We have very different cultures but at the same time, we are bound by a common thread.

Beyond the urban India, which is the same in all the big cities, there is the Indian of the masses which moves to a different beat. Ankush Saikia was born in Tezpur, Assam in 1975. He has worked in journalism and publishing. Spotting Veron and Other Stories is his second book after Jet City Girl which was a novel. This book has eight short stories written over a period of 17 years. Some of them, Two Ending, The Test, Spotting Veron and Jet City Woman have been published before. Saikia grew up in Madison, Wisconsin; Assam; and Shillong, Meghalaya and worked in New Delhi. His familiarity with cultures of these places is palpable as he portrays them in his stories.

This book is a reflection of life in the North-East and Delhi. In Two Ending, the fear of goons and superstition are taken to a new level. The protagonist tries to understand one on the basis of the other. The Test is a tongue-in-cheek look at the gravity of a test in the life of a student and the lengths they go to ace it.

Saikia’s first novel, Jet City Woman, was a version of his story by the same name. It deals with a day in the life of a journalist who is faced with strange circumstances and is at a loss about how to deal with them. At the same time, he cannot run away from his journalistic duties. India in its most vivid avatar forms the basis of Spotting Veron. It takes you through a train journey that touches strikingly different places and equally myriad variety of people. And the complexity of how all of them from their different backgrounds come together in their one goal—adjusting thirty in a compartment.

The Dog at the Wedding is a heart-wrenching story of a boy who has been split from his family by a cruel stroke of fate, and then some human intervention. It chalks his journey as he tries to make sense of his existence and come to terms with it. Nostalgia and earning a living are what are pulling the protagonist apart in A House in Laban. There is a lot at stake but a lot more to be gained; is he ready to take the plunge? Caught Somewhere in Time shows us life as it is in a matrilineal society. The trials and tribulations of someone who has lived life in the right lane before he veers towards wrong are shown without trying to preach. The last story, The Island, is a tale of two places separated in time and space yet connected in a fascinating way.

The author has managed to evoke a plethora of emotions through his simple stories that touch your heart. His language is straightforward and narrative effortless. He does not judge the characters but leaves them open to interpretation. There is also a glossary at the end that aids in understanding the less familiar words.