Familiar tales: Stories set in and inspired from daily life (Book Review)
By Vikas Datta
Title: To Each With Love -A Satiric Rendition; Author: Renee Ranchan; Publisher: Stellar Publishers; Pages: 254; Price: Rs 350
For the most profound, touching, or even unexpected stories, we may not have to look much more further than our own homes. In the daily rhythms of our own family, educational and professional lives, in changing values and norms, there are tales galore to be told if we only learn to recognise them. Like this writer.
In this collection of half a dozen stories, author Renee Ranchan uses the setting of our homes’ familiar terrain, the plot of routine family life and characters of our households (including and especially those who serve us), but in a different, almost overawing unexpected, way to show how things we may do, usually without a second thought, can have implications and consequences.
As she observes there are “so many things that come to you… No, it’s not that you have to summon up from memories, those pictures, images, thoughts, grainy stories that need to be flaked off to find tangible form. They film by you at all hours, when cacophony is at a high-pitch, or when the drone of silence creates an ache, burrowing deep long after it has left. Or, when this business of everyday living, leaves you little time to navigate to that unseen corner….”.
Though some motifs may crop up, all the six are as different as can be, with respect to size, from short to longish short stories, and setting, ranging from the confined conditions of a traditional family in old Delhi, to a girls schools in the hills to a mansion built on the outskirts of the capital.
But Ranchan, who tells us she “hails from the pine-breezed mountains and many seasons ago reluctantly set home in dusty Delhi”, somehow manages to work in the hills almost in all the stories which also bring the past and present, tradition and innovation, loyalty and greed, respect and abandonment and many other binaries in a dazzling display of inspired writing.
The stories are also not mere stories, but also deal with pressing issues of our times, including patriarchy and oppression of women, care of elderly relatives, loss and abandonment, relations with domestic help, and the like.
They begin with “For Your Loins, Sir”, a longish atmospheric story of domesticity in early years of independent India. An eloquent and haunting depiction of the drudgery and pressures women are subjected too, its twist-like ending, gives you a incisive view of why patriarchy and oppression continue despite the presence of women.
Of the shorter short stories, “Chander”, dealing with a servant with a hidden side, and “Mataji” about a family matriarch are slightly hard to get, but “Lalla”, about students at a hill school and their strict teacher, whose tyrannies are temporarily mitigated by her ambitious day-dreams is most evocative.
Of the remaining two – both longish short stories, “The Fiefdom!” is a tragi-comic look at the importance of domestic help for working couples, and how they can try to do what they like and dictate terms to their hapless employers, while “From the Attic”, about possessions and the memories attached to them, tries to be evocative too, but suffers from less then seamless transitions between past and present. It is also not helped by clumsy constructions like “count on his tapering fingers the countless books he had issued from there..”
On the whole, most of these stories make for a good – and most differently delightful – reads. The language may sometimes seem opaque, but never lose the capacity to affect for the author, who describes herself as a “essentially a poet at heart”, uses it to good effect.
(Vikas Datta can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)