Ranjan Adiga’s ‘Leech & Other Stories’: The world in a grain of sand

Ranjan Adiga’s debut short story collection mines the endless possibilities of the form

Vangmayi Parakala
First Published19 May 2024
Leech & Other Stories: By Ranjan Adiga, Penguin Random House India, 256 pages,  <span class='webrupee'>₹</span>399
Leech & Other Stories: By Ranjan Adiga, Penguin Random House India, 256 pages, ₹399

Four years ago, in under 100 words, Ranjan Adiga wrote a touching, word-perfect vignette of his life during the pandemic. Titled Single Dad Lockdown and published in the Tiny Love Stories section of the New York Times, the snippet was a masterclass in how much—rhythm, tension, emotion and catharsis—could be packed into barely a paragraph.

Now, in his debut collection Leech & Other Stories, Adiga builds on his remarkable skill. In each tightly controlled story, Adiga, a Nepali academic in the US, looks at the experience of people from Nepal—those living in the country, those considering leaving, and those who have already left. The collection brings a relatively fresh gaze to diaspora literature in the way stories set in domestic spaces—like Dry Blood or the titular Leech—look at cross-class relationships, and those set in professional spaces deal with identity. 

In High Heels, Adiga shows how fragile fledgeling relationships can be when those involved—in this case Binod the bully and his sincere colleague Sarita—are unsure of their place within larger social structures. Through the story’s setting in a workplace in Nepal, he exposes how Nepali (and any South Asian) society manages a woman’s complaints about safety in the workplace, without dealing with the aggressor directly.

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In contrast, in The Diversity Committee, Rakesh, a Nepali professor working at a university in the US is pulled up by the dean despite apologising for making a student uncomfortable with a hug. The interaction, however, takes a turn: the dean’s seemingly sympathetic understanding of cultural difference is weaponised against Rakesh when the former asks whether it “might be cultural” that his body language and cues are misunderstood. 

What shines in these stories is Adiga’s lucid articulation of unfiltered, contradictory emotions. The conflicts may seem simple at first, but his careful prose—warmed by a deep understanding of everyday motivations, insecurities and joys—elevates them. For instance, in A Short Visit, the father of Nirmal, a Denver-based divorced Nepali man, flies in from Nepal, concerned about his son’s evident loneliness. Adiga affords Nirmal a deep and vast interiority that unfolds into an exploration of the father-son dynamic with its mix of camaraderie, concern and an inability to freely communicate. 

Each of the 10 stories contain the complexity of whole novels. While dwelling on aspiration, change and intimacy of various kinds, they reveal, upon any number of readings, new layers and angularities. 

As a debut collection, Leech & Other Stories is a strong showcase of skill by an author who has deftly mined the delicacy of the short story, using it as it was meant to be—a site of endless possibility.

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