There are sea stories, there are mountain stories and there are space stories. This one is about cities. A few journalists, some writers, a teacher and a CEO come up with short stories based in eight Indian cities and one each from Pakistan and Sri Lanka.
Urban flavours: The book gives each city a unique personality.
City Stories follows the 2007 book, Decapolis: Tales from 10 European Cities (edited by Maria Crossan and translated by Karen Emmerich). Decapolis “highlights a cross-section of cultures, voices, landscapes, and recent histories of 10 major European cities, presenting new perspectives on the urban experience.” City Stories is, however, targeted at younger readers and consists of experiences behind the skylines of what have now become metros.
The premise that cities have their own personalities, and that the inhabitants take after the cities they live in, does not come through, though, as strongly as it would have in a novel. Each of the cities featured has a wealth of history. So, it becomes difficult to capture the characters and their complexities — or the lack of it — in a three-page story. But City Stories does its best.
In 27 Nisbat Road, Rehan Ansari’s story set in Lahore, the writer muses about the time spent in his grandfather’s house in that city. Vibes is a hilarious account of the adolescent life of a brother and sister in Kolkata.
City Stories: Tales from Here and There: Scholastic, 190 pages, Rs195
Bock Makes His Bones is a story about hidden talents changing the life of a young drummer in disturbed Guwahati. Former adman and CEO of Future Brands, Santosh Desai, writes about a Delhi teenager who wakes up one fine day to find himself spouting poetry — actually, sentences that rhyme even in everyday conversation — in A Fate Verse than Death. Follow Aman as he goes from Sheikh Sarai to Lodhi Gardens to Karol Bagh in search of a cure.
You can feel the city in each of the stories. The storybook journey from Guwahati to Thiruvanathapuram is peppered with liberal doses of the city involved. If Ahmedabad’s walled city comes alive in Esther David’s The Worry Box and the Laughing Lady, Chennai’s idli and vada-sambar stalls send out their aroma through The Pickpocket.
It is not all about fun and frolic. The book has its grim moments. Drug addiction has been dealt with in The Beast, set in Colombo. Author Vijita Fernando, through the eyes of young Upul, shows how the thin line separating man and the beast in him can disappear in a flash. Anushka Ravishankar’s Going Back has a fleeting, yet deep, incident that leaves an indelible mark in two young minds, post the Mumbai riots.
One good thing is that the book doesn’t go in for an introduction. An introduction to anthologies such as this only serves to distract the reader — and sometimes even puts her off the book. Scholastic has wisely veered away from that trap. Though City Stories has its moments, one does wonder what might have been had the publisher made it a collection of short stories from 10 Asian cities.
The writer is the editor of Heek, a children’s magazine.
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