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It So Happens ...

Asma Rasheed

By Annie Zaidi
Harper Collins Publishers, New Delhi, 2012, pp. 314, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXVII NUMBER 2-3 February/March 2013

Love Stories # 1-14 is not arranged in the numerical order one expects to find on turning the first page—this is the book’s first surprise. And it is this note of whimsy that connects the threads of Annie Zaidi’s fourteen love stories in the collection under review. Zaidi’s short stories trace the career of love, across lives that range from the young to the young at heart. Let me pick on a few, randomly, though in a rather non-whimsical order. ‘Love Story # 1’ or ‘The one that ended’ muses on a middle-class heterosexual couple’s world whose seams are coming apart at the news of a ‘stitch’—a medical rarity that occurs in one out of ten thousand cases. She tries to keep the news of her disease and hold on to their tender intimacies even as he loses his job. His painstaking realization that it has always been she who began ‘it,’ that medical expenses will demand more attention to the minutiae of life, is set off by a shared, quirky desire to go off on a ‘shameless’ picnic. Their disquietingly intense smiles for each other, on what is a startling jaunt after all, make it excruciatingly intolerable for passers-by to look upon them. The story teases, even as it troubles, lightly, at our tried and tired notions of love. Yet another one, ‘Love Story # 3’ or ‘The one that was fulfilled’ contemplates on the perils of monotony. It is a marriage where the couple seem to have everything going for them. But when one partner nudges at the hollowness underneath, the other tries frantically to hold on until both are forced to confront the concessions and compromises of a formulaic relationship. The searing pain of their perspectives on what each gained from the other—who supported/stopped whom—results, in the ensuing separation, in the wife who wanted ‘a happy married life’ getting a physical structure, the house. The successful artist husband who has been faithful throughout acquires a ‘tangible’ relationship with a younger, struggling artist. Does the prose skilfully weave in a faint thread of dry mockery at this new relationship, where he learns to stop breathing in order to hear the sound of his own breathing, where he doesn’t have to talk to the new woman at all and yet they hug every time they meet even after a few hours of being apart? ...

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