Nostalgia fiction2 min read . Updated: 10 Jan 2015, 12:42 AM IST
An anthology of eternal Indian favouritesand the pleasure of re-reading them
A few months back, no one on Facebook could escape the phenomenon of people going back in time to their favourite books. I say going back in time because what people saw as their favourite reads, the stories that gave them the most joy, were those they had read when they were younger.
It is, of course, unlikely that such an experience is not possible with more contemporary stories. What the “top favourite books" lists did reflect were those youthful years when people had a lifetime before them, when they took pleasure in reading and rereading books, spending so much time with the characters that they became alive, unforgettable. With time running short as one gets on in years, with so many wonderful books yet to be read, it’s not often that one can go back to these old friends, or gather new, fast ones from the books one has come to love along the way.
A Clutch Of Indian Masterpieces: Extraordinary Short Stories From The 19th Century To The Present, gives us the opportunity to relive the pleasure of rereading stories we once knew so well.
At the same time, it must be noted, without raising one’s eyebrows, that the stories written in the “present" form a minority in this anthology edited by publisher and writer David Davidar. So, while this book includes several of the novelists Davidar published during the days he headed Penguin India, from Vikram Seth to Upamanyu Chatterjee and Vikram Chandra, many of the others just belong, and have often been seen, in anthologies of “masterpieces": Ismat Chughtai’s Quilt, Saadat Hasan Manto’s Toba Tek Singh, Munshi Premchand’s The Shroud, Khushwant Singh’s Portrait Of A Lady, Amrita Pritam’s Stench of Kerosene, stories by Rabindranath Tagore, U.R. Ananthamurthy, R.K. Narayan, Thakazhi Sivasankara Pillai and Vaikom Muhammad Basheer.
It does make one wonder if the short-story form really only belongs to, and can succeed in, anthologies. A contemporary writer, Navtej Sarna, noted at a public event recently that he had to write a novel to be able to publish short stories he had written 20 years earlier.
It’s universally acknowledged that writing short fiction requires extraordinarily skill. So why has this form gathered the reputation it has? As Neil Gaiman put it: “The short story is still like the novel’s wayward younger brother, we know that it’s not respectable…"
We’re looking forward to our contemporary greats restoring respectability to short fiction. Till that time, this is a good book to have by the bedside; it features the constant favourites.