Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Release and other stories by Rakhshanda Jalil

The jacket of the book says that this is the debut collection of short stories by Rakhshanda Jalil but she  has earlier  edited a collection of short stories by Pakistani women which was extremely successful. And there is no doubt that it would be so.Because in Ms. Jalil  the literary world has  found a   sincere writer, at least of short stories.
All protagonists in her stories of the present thin  volume are muslims but not the muslims of ghettos or those on the margins of the Indian society but those who are reasonably well- to- do and perhaps not fundamentalists.For most of them drink alcohol  and are in the white collar jobs . Even women of these stories do not mind a swig at times.The title story Release is a mildly poignant tale of two cousins who were betrothed even before one of them was born  and how despite an intense affection and almost absolute devotion at least of the female protagonist the two could never get married because of the mulish stubbornness of the boy's mother and a little pusillanimity on the part of the boy  who fails to assert himself when  needed most. The boy, Hasan, and the girl, Azra do meet finally  but then  Hasan is 70, long retired from the Foreign Service and Azra is on a hospital bed in a coma.Perhaps not a modern tale but written beautifully nevertheless.In The Perfect Couple,  a husband, discovering that his wife has a paramour treats him with a kind of fellow- feeling ( instead of bashing him) when the latter comes to the hospital where the wife has been taken and is unconscious in the ICU. Some of the stories appear to be pen portraits such as The Failure and The Strange Man.  Surprisingly the stories are refreshingly free from the  politics except  A Real Woman wherein the chief protagonist Dia Mirza seems deeply affected by the contemporary incidents, so much so that she forgets all pleasures of  the  body  being promised to her by a long-known  visitor when the news of  serial bomb-blasts flashes on the television  channels.
Some of the stories are stories within stories -a style known to the humanity since the days of the Puranas . The Alif Laila tales have made an exquisite use of this style.But the stories in which Jalil makes use of this style are comparatively weaker.The Incident of Frozen Snake and A Holiday Gone Awry are two such stories.Humiliation and indignation of the girls and their twelve year old brother, in front of whom they are raped, has not been brought out  in depth in the latter story.  The former,  in which a frozen snake sent to an aspiring starlet by her  experienced rival just makes the starlet lose her mental balance ruining her promising career,  gives an impression that the things operate at a shallow level.
I read the book in just one sitting.The stories reveal a facet of the life of Indian Muslims that we may not be familiar with or we may not have tried to know,  swamped as we might have been by the stereotype images of Muslims of this country--- bearded men, having a scull cap on their heads, illiterate or half-educated, employed in unskilled or semi-skilled jobs, spawning a large brood of  malnourished children who would be  easy recruits for a terrorist organization etc. This thin volume of short stories tries ,albeit not much successfully, to dispel that erroneous impression of Muslims of the contemporary India. We look forward to more such and indeed much deeper stories  from the pen of Ms. Jalil. 

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