A bouquet of myriad hues
Pooja Dadwal

Ratna Rao Shekar’s debut novel, The Purple Lotus and Other Stories, is a bouquet of carefully delved-into emotions which have been arranged together in the shape of 13 stories. The book brings forth an interesting, well-crafted and eclectic lot of short stories that are artfully spun around the recurring themes of love, dissatisfaction, longing, desire and doubt. In this aptly titled novel Ratna presents vignettes of sentiments on a backdrop of time that seems to be ebbing away... This juxtaposition, which appears to stand true for mostly all of her stories, lends a very tangible and poignant quality to the narrative.

The Purple Lotus and 
Other Stories
By Ratna Rao Shekar
MapinLit. Pages 123. `275 

It goes to Ratna’s credit that in her first novel she has so succinctly presented the myriad afflictions that plague a person’s mind and heart. She defies tradition in her stories, in the sense that she tells only that which she believes to be important. Hence you will not find her spending too much time in plot development. What the author reveres are the emotions and for that she presents an entire panorama for the reader to savour.  

The stories span across cities and countries, including New York, Paris, Sri Lanka, Hyderabad, Delhi, Agra and Chennai among a host of other cities. In Ratna’s work, what triumphs is the inner dialogue. In some stories the author provides you with a ringside view of the happenings — the feelings, emotions and the resulting turmoil. But more often than not, she lets you into the deeper recesses of her character’s mind and heart. The feelings, which lie just beneath the surface, make themselves known to the reader by way of dialogue. The most striking examples of which are My Name is Meenakshi and Talk to me.

In other stories like The American in Banaras, The Purple Lotus, and Amethyst what strikes the reader is the author’s inclination toward Buddhism and belief in the concept of soul mates. An underlying streak in her work is love across lifetimes; its existence and belief pondered and believed upon by characters in different stories.

Ratna’s stories are peopled with characters/protagonists from all age groups, even young children. Hence there is Bhikku Ananda, a boy devoted to Buddhism who is on the threshold of falling in love and Rahul, the young boy who resides in Banjara Hills and has to come to terms with saying goodbye to his dead father as his family prepares to leave the house they have lived in forever.

The stories that fill the pages do stay with you and leave an impression. More than the characters, which should presumably come to life, it is the feelings that seem palpable, and as you flip page after page, you tend to immerse yourself in this beautifully crafted web of emotions. What the author does brilliantly is that she takes a feeling and spins a story around it. Hence, the protagonist in all her stories is the emotion - both the shown and the unshown.

One such exceptional story is My Name is Meenakshi; a tale of an Indian woman who finally speaks up after years of living under the servitude of a typical Indian mindset. She bears the strain of being a woman, a mother and now an aged lady. Somewhere during these years she has lost her individuality, till one such time, at the end of the story, she chooses to reclaim it; starting with the iconic statement that she too has a name and it isn’t amma but Meenakshi. 

The Purple Lotus and Other Stories makes for a fantastic read. Ratna Rao Shekar very skilfully plucks away thoughts and emotions from the vestibule of this fast-moving life and offers them to you without editorialising them. Her writing is an offering, whose interpretation she leaves to the reader...