Book Review: The Love Letter and Other Stories
Do you like short stories? What do you like about them? The fact that they are short? That they are stories? Not novellas? Or big giant novels? That more often than not, they just deliver a knockout punch smack on your face and disappear? Or, that they are like the cup of coffee early in the morning that makes your day seem so much better? Or, that winter sunshine with a little nip in the air?
There is something very fuzzy and warm about reading a collection of good short stories. And a book like The Love Letter and Other Stories delivers on that promise. Mostly. Misplaced in time, since a lot of these were written almost half a century back, the chosen stories are fairly timeless.
First up, a big shoutout for Arunava Sinha. I am not a big fan of translations. More often than not, somehow, a translation is an interpretation of the author’s story. And unless the author approves of it, there is a lot of the love and pain that is lost in translation. Arunava does a swell job. So much so that you don’t walk away from the book searching for completeness of certain emotions that the original would have conveyed better.
The stories in the book are all tales of unrequited unfulfilled love. Love that is fulfilled does not make for great love stories, apparently, unless we are talking Bollywood. Yet, should you choose to stay with the stories a few moments longer than it takes to read them, you will see a tapestry of emotions in almost all stories – love, lust, longing, rationalization, intellectualization, projection, hatred, loathing, inaction, frustration, fidelity, infidelity, possession, acceptance, rejection.
The book has 7 short stories and 2 plays. Of the two plays, 25 Years Before is a story you’ve heard many times before, but a treatment that’s fresh. An encounter, a conversation between two that traverses a lifetime. Full of love and reproach, of chances taken or not, of dreams fulfilled or abandoned. What if. The flow isn’t new. The choices aren’t outrageous. The conversation, though, is still as intimate as you would want such a conversation to be.
On the other hand, The Strange Course of Love – didn’t work that well for me. Ila’s youthful confusion, Shobhon’s childhood crush. One moves on, while the other doesn’t. You can see the story well before it happens. And unlike 25 Years Before, the conversations here do not stay with you.
The Love Letter, the first and the longest short story in the book, answers a few questions and leaves you with many more to think about. It doesn’t ever explain the extent and the true nature of the relationship between Birupaksha and Esha. Right from the letter written with invisible ink, to the in-harmony coordination of letters that find him without fail in different countries, to the feeling of void left after the last letter you never get to read. Yet, the story is a piece of genius, an insight into human nature, of forces that make us understand ourselves a little better, that your mind keeps fiddling with the story long after its over. Its a piece of time caught in amber, shining brightly.
Lovers traces a lifetime full of many love stories. Of lovers that stay the same, and of lovers that become so different. The narration is breathtaking as we move seamlessly from one love to another – from physical manifestation to the orgy of a spiritual conversation. The names change, the relationships evolve. But it’s the continuity in the thread that holds you together.
Jayjayanti –“No matter how much I look in the mirror, I will never know how I appear to others.” The story is Soumitro’s fear of his one-sided love story becoming fulfilled, and becoming something else thereafter. Throughout Jayjayanti and The Shadow, the projections of an intellectual upon a relationship, and the eventual impact they have on the outcome is beautifully captured. While Soumitro rationalizes Tandra’s overtures and decides for himself the future of his love story, Aparna’s overtures largely go unnoticed till its too late – “You left it for so late. There’s no time anymore.”
A Scent of Tulsi is about the demons from the past that need to be exorcised, and the shadows they cast on the present. Sometimes, they help a cornered dog gather enough strength and find his identity. Mihir and Kamala, a recently married couple, find themselves in Dhaka. In a new city, Kamala rediscovers her past. A long forgotten derelict house, and the tulsi leaves that still had the same fragrance. And Mihir finds a new Kamala.
One Red Rose – A young man finds himself hobnobbing with the elites and pseudo-intellectuals, feeling inadequate and out of place, getting attracted to the house lady’s sister. Will the single red rose, wrapped in a newspaper, be enough to catch the attention of the beautiful Chaya? Ah, the trepidations of youth!
And How Are You? – A love story that begins after it is fulfilled. What happens then? Does it stay young? And true? Do the others still blush when they see this couple’s unabashed love? Do others see through the facade of a relationship well past its expiry date?
These three stories (A Scent of Tulsi, One Red Rose, How Are You?) are a narrated from a single vantage point. Kamala’s has ended long ago, Protap’s gets a wind, while Ghoshal’s is fulfilled and transformed into a ritual. These stories do not talk about a counter view. Yet, in their singularity, they are complete.
The book is something you can finish across several settings, each of 30-45 minutes may be. The stories are, as I said, warm and fuzzy. Yet, to imagine the world where they are set, of letters, trams, tulsi’s, evening gatherings of art and culture – one needs to find the time in their life to relish the aftertaste of these stories. The gripes – one of the plays, and some of the repeat sentiments that crept in.
Title: The Love Letter and Other Stories
Author: Buddhadeva Bose Translator: Arunava Sinha
Publisher/ Imprint: Rupa Publications
Genre/ Sub-Genre: Fiction/ Short Stories
Rating: 3.50 of 5
Reviewed for: Publisher
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