& occasionally about other things, too...

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Bombay Wali and other stories

There was once a unique city. It had people from all over inhabiting it, cohabiting and creating magic by just being there. 

Enterprise and cosmopolitanism gave it vibrancy. Inclusiveness gave it character. It created space for everyone who came in searching for a home, or for living a life or making a fortune. 

It wasn't an ideal place. No, on the contrary, it had all the contradictions and the inequities of a rapidly growing metropolis. But somehow it managed to overcome adversity and be a catalyst of change.

Everyone who called it home knew there was no other place quite like it anywhere in the world. There couldn't be. 

Bombay was once that city. Then, Bombay became Mumbai.

But long before its name changed, parochialism and insularity had begun to transform its ethos.

Most of the stories in Veena Gokhale’s collection (Bombay Wali and other stories) are about a Bombay that now exists only in memories.

Not only have many of the locations disappeared into history, the city has changed so radically that it would be difficult to find characters from the stories in the city.

Veena doesn't follow the traditional pattern of telling a story that has a beginning, middle, and an end. She paints vignettes from the life of her characters and bring alive the stories by deftly easing the reader into the middle of a situation.

This makes the stories believable, real.

In fact, some of the stories are so palpable they make you uncomfortable. Feroza Billimoria of Middle Age Jazz and Blues and Dilip of Freire Stopped in Bombay are just two examples where the reader prays the author will be gentle to the characters.

All the stories in the collection – even those which aren't connected to Bombay – are exquisitely crafted.

I found Reveries of a Riot the best story in the collection.

Here’s an excerpt:

The images of the streets outside coalesced into a single flame and burned in Mira’s mind. She felt as if he shared the flame. That, in fact, he was fuelling and brightening it as his body heat seeped into her. As they kissed, breathing chaotically, Mira pushed hard against him, wanting the street-sweat, mud-violence; the feverish hunger-anger of his tongue to infuse her being as well.

He led Mira by hand to the top of the building, to the little recess, musty, cobwebbed, stacked with discarded junk that led to the terrace, which was locked.

Half undressing, they clung, clawed, bit, thrust, tugged, stroked each other, in a frenzy of love and despair. As he took her standing up, Mira felt his calloused hands (what had he been doing with his butter-smooth hands, soft and gently in her memory?) grasp her hair, gather it in his fist, and pull her head back, hard. Pain, black and deep, washed over her as she came and came.

Now she was no longer apart, but a part of the riot, and would always be, with a part of the riot inside her forever.


Veena Gokhale: http://www.asiancanadianwiki.org/w/File:Veena_Gokhale_author_portrait.jpg

Book cover: http://montrealserai.com/wp/wp-content/uploads/BombayWaliCover300.jpg

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