Short Takes
Diverse narratives

Love Across the Salt Desert 
by Keki N. Daruwala
Ravi Dayal & Penguin. 
Pages: xi+230. Rs 299.

Reviewed by Randeep Wadehra

ThIS collection includes such iconic stories as Love across the salt desert and familiar ones like The tree and Shaman. However, there are equally absorbing stories like Daughter which portrays conflict between a Parsee father’s racial and religious prejudices and his daughter’s love for a Muslim Pathan. Here the prejudice is overlaid with, on one hand, the father’s worries over the fast dwindling Parsee population and, on the other, his inherent insecurities as reflected by his obsession with keeping doors and windows locked. Going and Of mother too have Parsee characters. Although Going’s storyline is simple it is a treat to read it; the narrator’s unfussy emotions are interwoven with her reactions to nature’s variegated hues that create sheer poetry albeit with sad undercurrents.

Lest the readers should begin to draw parallels with Isaac Bashevis Singer – who wrote mainly about East European Jewry – Daruwala does not confine his stories to his Parsee community. In fact, his eclectic narratives have people from different communities and countries in assorted situations. But what stands out is the writer’s ability to provide authentic details that create realistic portraits. So, whether it is the Briton Tony Bamforth’s insensitivity towards the Indian Dr. Kumpawat in The Jogger turning into regret or the lifting of Maya’s claustrophobia after she witnesses her husband’s infidelity in Walls or the god-fearing Govardhan – ever so conscious of his caste pedigree – discovering his much younger wife’s love for a lower caste soldier in The day of the winter solistice you recognize them for what they really are – mortals in flesh and blood.

The anthology takes us to the BC era when Alexander’s army was about to attack Porus and to post-Troy Greece; to the hide and seek between a self-respecting poet and an arrogant Sultan of the medieval Ghazni; as well as other climes and times. But it is the colonial India that Daruwala portrays best with insights into the way the colonial mindset of the ruler and the ruled operated at the grassroots level. Moreover, his satires can be quite trenchant as proved by The case of the black Ambassador, A house in Ranikhet and When Gandhi came to Gorakhpur. Daruwala is at his best while exploring the characters’ mindscapes.

Whispers of the Heart
by Sirjan.
Zohra Publications.
Pages 55. Rs 150.

One does not create poetry. It is omnipresent and eternal. Only a lucky few become its medium. Poet as a mere medium? Don’t scoff. To become a poet you have to have an evolved mind and extraordinary vision – something that does not happen with everyone. How does one discover these qualities within? Auden suggests daffodils and/or deprivation as triggers that set one off on this highly evolved creative path. But, as the fifteen year old Sirjan shows, neither is necessary. Sensitivity to the world around and a desire to express one’s observations and experiences can turn one into a poet.


Health, Wealth and Spiritualism
by R.C. Aggarwal.
Book Palace.
Pages 267. Rs 195.

The title reminds us of the much used adage, ‘health is wealth’. With the addition of ‘spiritualism’ to the title one expected a rather coarctate narrative dwelling upon the symbiosis among health, wealth and spiritualism. Nonetheless, the author, commended by political and bureaucratic bigwigs, has included various current issues to drive home his message. This book has chapters ranging from Golden methods to make money in stock market to How to get a sound and restful sleep. There are chapters on cow slaughter, black money etc too. Take your pick.