Subtle tones
Reviewed by Nonika Singh

The Mad Tibetan: Stories from Then and Now
By Deepti Naval
Amaryllis. Pages 159. Rs 395

The Mad Tibetan: Stories from Then and NowTHE world knows her as a talented actor.... those who have kept tabs on her also are aware that she is a poet of considerable mettle. But the acclaimed actor as a story teller? Well, as she turned one with her first collection of short stories titled The Mad Tibetan, the result is as impacting as her tryst with celluloid. Intense yet simple, real yet incredible, understated and powerful, her worldview is simply breathtaking. Like one of her paintings that adorns the jacket of the book, it captures many subtle shades of life, its vicissitudes, twists and turns and takes you to the realm naked eye canít quite see.

In her debut anthology, words make love with images and acquire a life of their own and simply but surely she makes you a part of her characters. Characters that come from everyday life but with their human foibles and quirkiness these are as endearing as credible. Slice of reality it sure is yet touched by surrealism that is once again believable and enchanting. So in the story The Morning After she presents a wonderful psyche of human mind that not only learns to forgive and forget but finds a new way of life from the embers of a bitter past.

Shades of Erich Segalsís Man, Woman and Child`85 well this one goes beyond and impresses with lifeís ironies and dilemmas. In Bombay Central life reveals itself in its grey shades, beyond moral judgements and the beauty of the human bond, of love and emotion surfaces in ample measure.

What is engaging about her stories is how simple human emotions not only tug at your heart-strings but triumph against all odds. In Birds, she word-paints the frenzy of birds having lost their off-spring with as much passion as the turmoil in the mind of the protagonist who has inadvertently sounded the death-knell of vulnerable creatures. Beautifully and dramatically, she contrasts the human pursuit for a better home with loss of abode of godís other species. Same momentum of drama can be felt in the second story Sisters as well as in Premonition that Deepti acknowledges was motivated by a friendís recall of his first love. Deeptiís felicity, however, lies in how she transforms it into an engaging account of a man pursuing a romantic interest at one level and warding off his fears of an accident at another.

In a collection where several stories remain with you long after you have put away the book, the need to include part-memoir part-stories might be debatable. Indeed, in many a story Deepti the actor emerges as a character herself. In recounting these personal interfaces with life, Deepti succeeds in many like The Mad Tibetan that clearly is a fallout of her journey as a photographer. Then Thulli has all the elements of story telling and leaves you astounded as well as awestruck with a chilling yet humane peep into the world of prostitutes.

Trespassing in the red-light area, which Deepti once dared to venture into, to hone her reel role Thulli is riveting as well as profound. In the sleazy world of flesh trade, human spirit remains indomitable and forms the crux of the storyline. Deepti distils human complexities remarkably in this one. But the same canít be said of the one revolving around her meeting with Balraj Sahni when she was a nine-year old girl.

Nevertheless, the collection is not only immensely readable but insightful, allowing the reader to delve deep into the psychological inflections of human behaviour. Without a doubt, Deepti shows great promise as a raconteur.