Ladders Against The Sky is a collection of 23 short stories, centring around Hindu Sindhis, a community that lost its homeland when India was partitioned in 1947. The Hindu Sindhis now exist as a diaspora. The author says the contradiction of outward conformity to the mores of societies they live in and the longing for their lost culture has baffled observers. He has tried to show they have lives as individuals too by breaking the stereotypes.
The book reminds of the novel Mulligatawny Soup by Manorama Mathai, based on the Anglo-Indian community that comes to grip with the new reality after the British withdraw from India. This collection of short stories, similarly gives a peep into the psyche of the Sindhi community.
It comes as a revelation that the community flourishes in places such as Hong Kong, Taiwan and South America. Their acumen for business is well documented, not surprising since the author himself kept changing careers — from working in his father’s textile store to being a distributor for Coca Cola in Meghalaya, from running a book store to teaching English literature in a college, before finally taking the plunge to head an export company in Taiwan.
The author’s rich knowledge of the export business is revealed in the story, The Head of a Chicken, in which an immigrant into Hong Kong struggles his way to reach the top. Though the author tries to show how he buries all scruples to do so, along the journey, one learns what it takes to get going in the export business. Hong Kong, Here I Come offers an insight into customs and tradition of these countries.
The Bar Girl has a beautiful theme in which a divorced businessman gets close to a bar girl but realises the disruptions it will cause in their lives. He finances the girl’s education as a nurse to help her get out of the profession, and then goes out of her life. But not without the girl telling him that she has married but does not love her husband because she actually loved him. A similar theme crops up in the story, Writing a Fairy Tale, in which the man falls in love with the wife of a client, realises the upheaval it would cause in their lives, and finally places family before personal happiness.
However, the one story that leaves one slightly perplexed is The Mexican Girlfriend. Despite being egocentric and a dominant patriarch, the need for Hassaram to shoot his son’s Mexican girlfriend, is baffling.
The father is against his son marrying Linette, a descendant of the Conquistadores, and talks him out of his reverie. Not reconciled to this, the son elopes with Linette after marrying an Indian girl as per his father’s wishes, feigning kidnapping. An enraged father shoots the girl and flees to India.
The first section of the short stories, Abroad, is quite readable. It deals with the community’s toil on foreign shores, their adaptability, success and a desire to retain their oneness.
The second section, In Transit, is a portrayal of cultural practices like in The Bhorwani Marriage. The third section, At Home, has stories that are varied — Teesta Holidays about nature’s fury, Shiva’s Winds about a miracle in which an infant survives icy winds near Rohtang Pass and The Inner Light is about how Buddha gets the gift of prescience.
The book has a foreword by actor Victor Banerjee, the choice reflecting the yearning of the diaspora as Banerjee acted in the David Lean’s film, A Passage To India, based on EM Forster’s book. The cover of the book has the Sindhi Ajrak patterns, suggesting the diversity of stories. The author uses “pranams” and “dhanyawads” to thank his collaborators, balancing tradition and modernity, symbolising the cleft the community finds itself caught in.
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