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Houses, Hills and History

Sampurna Chattarji

Scholastic India, 2008, pp. 194, Rs. 195.00

By Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Puffin Books, New Delhi, 2007, pp. 131, Rs. 150.00

By Anita Krishan
Prakash Books, 2007, pp. 152, Rs. 195.00

VOLUME XXXII NUMBER 11 November 2008

City Stories: Tales from Here and There from Scholastic is a collection of ten stories from, as the subtitle helpfully informs us, here—Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Bangalore, Thiruvananthapuram, and there—Lahore and Colombo. While city-specific anthologies are quite common for the adult reader, it is refreshing to find one for younger readers, a sort of travelling circus around the subcontinent, to be welcomed with much drumming of dhols.   A pity then that the opening story, ‘A Fate Verse Than Death’ by Santosh Desai, should be such a let-down. Apart from the cringe-inducing pun in the title, here is a story that has absolutely nothing to do with the city it purports to represent (Delhi), apart from the cursory mention of roads, schools and public gardens—a fact which would be of little consequence if the story itself were brilliant. Alas, quite the reverse. The beginning is promising—‘I woke up feeling funny. Not ha-ha funny, but spoilt-milk funny. My tongue seemed to have grown a beard and my mouth hated it’. The thirteen-year-old narrator wakes up to find he has been struck with the affliction of speaking, to use his own words, in rather ‘lame’ couplets. His ‘stupid rhyming stunt’ as his sister labels it, earns him a dubious heroic status after school, and at home, but by the next day, everyone, including the reader, is tiring of it. How his ‘alternative disease’ gets cured is net-net what’s left of the story, which leaves you with one question—why would a thirteen-year-old guy with no previous interest in poetry, say wonderfully adult and self-deprecatory things like ‘Not great poetry, I grant you’?   Rehan Ansari’s ‘27 Nisbat Road’ is a memoir about a house in Lahore that would have been much better if the reader got some sense of the child the adult-narrator once was. Nostalgia is an adult preoccupation, and this going-down-memory-lane tale, with its oddly dry reportage style is one I suspect child-readers will remain unmoved by. As they will by S. Sanjeev’s ‘The Red Signal’, the story of IIT assistant professor Shamshad’s return to a transformed Thiruvananthapuram.   In sharp contrast to the above, Siddhartha Sarma’s ‘Bock Makes His Bones’ is a story that takes you there. Not just inside the specific predicament of fourteen-year-old Bock, loner and devil (as-yet undiscovered) drummer, but also to an understanding of what it might be ...

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