A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces edited by David Davidar- A Book that Stays True to the Title
3rd March, 2017
A collection of thirty nine short stories of Indian writers from 19th century onwards.
This book is an amazing collection of short stories. The book begins with a note from David Davidar about how he chose the stories that provides a refreshing start to the book. Without further blabbering, here are a few of my favourites from the book:
I was glad to see a few childhood favourites included in the collection. Kushwant Singh’s Portrait of a Lady (about his grandmother), Anita Desai’s Games at Twilight (that I studied in school and immediately fell in love with Desai’s writing style), led me to a trip down the memory lane.
The Shroud by Munshi Premchand,translated from Hindi, brings out the hypocrisy in men through a father-son duo. They share no responsibility of running the household, and still deny the women of the household the dignity they deserve. A Horse and two Goats by R. K. Narayan was a heart warming read about a poor peasant who meets a foreigner and they converse without knowing the other person’s language. It was a quick, funny read.
Toba Tek Singh, a favourite story of mine by Saadat Hasan Manto was a delight to read again. It shows the feeling of belonging to a land when the politicians who hold the reins of the country decide to partition it.
The Flood by Thakazhi, translated from Malayalam, is the story of a comparison of the love between a dog and his master when disaster strikes.
The Somersault, written in Oriya by GopinathMohanty, is about a man who dreams to be a wrestler and a society who cheers him and discards him according to its whim.
Amrita Pritam’s Punjabi story, Stench of Kerosene, is about a man who is forced to take a second wife as the first one does not bear him a son.
G. Tilak’s The Man who saw God is a Telugu novel with an antagonist as the hero. The character captures the heart of the reader by the end of the story.
The Blue Umbrella by Ruskin Bond is about a girl who has the prettiest umbrella in the village and a cunning shop keeper who has his eyes on it. The climax was unexpected and reaffirmed my faith in the good in humanity.
Crossing the Ravi by Gulzar is about a man whose wife gives birth to twins on a train journey and one of them is still born. Just two pages long and the horrifying climax forced me to close the book for few minutes and compose myself.
Then there are stories that made me cry in the end. In a forest, a deer by Ambai strikes the right emotions in its translation from Tamil. It is the story of a barren woman through the eyes of the children in the household and how as the kids grow older, they begin to see her differently. Paul Zacharia’s Bhaskara Pattelar and my Life is the story of a low caste man who loves his master even though he treats him without mercy and visits his wife at night. The agony of a man who does not know whether his wife loves him or his master and his loyalty to the Pattelar that force him to do things against his conscience is beautifully portrayed. I adored this story and had tears in my eyes when it ended.
I love the plethora of stories and characters in the collection. Be it the man who has the habit of cursing gods on a daily basis in Revolt of the gods (Marathi) by Vilas Sarang, or the man who dresses up as a woman and frequents local trains and satisfies his sexual hunger in Cyrus Mistry’s Proposed Condemnation or the boy who runs away from home to escape the headmaster’s caning in Wild Things by Anjum Hassan or the nurse who leaves Kerala to make a living abroad in Gita Hariharan’s Nursing God’s countries, they all touched my heart.
The diversity in the selection of stories is applaudable. The stories equally distributed from the different states of India. This was a problem I had with She Walks, She Leads by Gunjan Jain, where the distribution of content was uneven among the different regions of India. In this book, there are stories written both in English and the ones that are translated from different Indian languages. There are stories with LGBTQ representation too. Ismat Chugtai’s Quilt (Urdu) is about two women through the eyes of a child who comes to stay with them. The child does not understand why the others in the household gossip about the relationship between the two ladies. Stolen by Amrita Narayanan is an erotic story about a maid who lusts after the mistress of the house and discovers a big secret when she peeps through the keyhole of her bedroom.
I was surprised to see a Hindi-translated sci-fic short story, Inspector Matadeen on the moon by Parsai. There was also a story of a vampire named Feast by Manjula Padmanabhan and some ghost stories too. The book has stories from old Indian favourites such as Tagore, Vikram Seth, Manto; contemporary ones such as Shashi Tharoor and Paul Zachariah and emerging writers of Indian origin such as Kanishk Tharoor. This again shows what a good mix the collection boasts of. I was happy to see that the book has stories about Indians from different social classes, financial backgrounds and
If I have something to complain about the book, it would be about the representation of different states. The stories are evenly distributed among the north and south of India, in terms of the native places of the writers. However, I was upset that there was no representation from North east India. I was disappointed to see this because the north east region is often side lined and I wish the book had considered stories from the region too.
Final Verdict :
If you are new to Indian fiction and would like to have a taste of different prominent writers of the country from 19th century onwards, this would be a perfect choice. All stories have an essence of India, its social outlook and cultural beauty. The book is a gigantic one with 540+ pages. So you can read one story at a time and savour the book. Highly recommended.
Title : A Clutch of Indian Masterpieces
Edited by : David Davidar
Publisher : Aleph
Published : 2014
Language : English
Rating : 5/5
Much thanks to Aleph for a copy of the book. All opinions are my own.
Have you read short stories from India? Who are some of your favourite authors? Any particular stories that are close to your heart?