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Of Life and Death and All Things Else

Amandeep Sandhu

By Navtej Sarna
Rainlight, Delhi, Delhi, Delhi, India, 2012, pp. 133, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

It is a pleasure to hold a book of short stories, flip its pages and discover that each story is actually short, about 4-5 pages. So much has happened in the short story space in the last couple of decades that some read like mini novels while others like flash fiction. Navtej Sarna’s Winter Evenings takes the reader back to the age when short stories were short sans frills. In the good old tradition of short stories most of Sarna’s stories also fulfil the unities of time, action, and space. That is part of the reason they work. Sarna is an economical writer, in both the subjects he chooses to write about and the way he writes. His stories are based on simple events like a meeting between friends, a phone call from a foreign land, a marriage proposal, a trip to a hill station or the chance discovery of a paint box. The simplicity of the themes is a reason to celebrate the book because the focus is once again on writing and how writing can create its moments. Many writers would seek bigger events to build their stories, believing that the import of the event has to be great but not this one. Sarna selects simple, almost everyday occurrences and makes stories out of them that play out in the head. For example, It was on a yellow hot afternoon that we went to cremate my grandmother, with the kind of heat that makes you wish fervently under your breath for a death in winter. Nothing, not even grief, makes much sense in that kind of heat, when the roads give off whiffs of steam and the frame of the car window makes red scalding marks on your forearm. A death in winter would be so much more sensible and decorous: the ice under the body would not melt away so fast into meaningless rivulets, the flowers would last a little longer, and it would be altogether more sad. An opening like that satisfies you. You hope to be carried on by the tempo and Sarna pulls a surprise: shows you how the grandmother was a victim of both Partition and the riots of 1984. That dual tragedy has affected a whole community but it has not been linked and written about. Sarna hints at it and leaves it at that. Not all points need be driven ...

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