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Epiphany and Surprise

Kishore Thukral

By Manjula Padmanabhan
Penguin Books, New Delhi, India, 2004, pp. 201, Rs. 250.00


The short story, a distinct literary form, is one of the oldest forms of fiction. Its history can be traced back to the brief fictional tales written in Egypt of circa 3000 BC. Today, though extant, short story writing is by and large a neglected art. In this age of blockbusters and magnum opuses, where advances stretch to hitherto unimaginable sums, the short story usually finds takers in weeklies and fortnightlies with dedicated readerships. To come across a collection of ten is therefore a rare treat.   Manjula Padmanabhan’s mastery at storytelling is evident through the book. In each of her stories she succeeds in familiarizing her reader with several characters in just a few pages. She uses techniques such as epiphany and surpise to best advantage, without ever resorting to melodrama. And the surprise lies, mostly, not in the core action but in the reaction to it. In the eponymous ‘Kleptomania’, for instance, one is led to believe that the title is explicatory, that Sheila will soon discover what has been filched and who the kelptomaniac in their midst is. But that is not to be. Again, while you begin to suspect Russi’s intentions, even if only a line or two before he sodomizes Kamal, it is the latter’s succumbing “…to a detonation of pleasure…” that catches you unawares. In ‘Betrayal’, Padmanabhan again reserves the bolt for the end. And once more she delivers it without histrionics. Angie quietly leaves the scene of Nick and Maya’s reunion. “…She would have liked to cry…But she didn’t.”   In many of her pieces Manjula Padmanabhan voices concerns that trouble a growing number of people today. In ‘Beads’, the poignant story of young Farida, a resident of “…Old Delhi, far to the north of the spacious Sunder Nagar flat…” in which she comes to work for its English occupants, Padmanabhan dwells on racial prejudice and the intolerance towards religious and class differences. ‘An Upbeat Story’, a moving tale of love between a cripple and a man with Down’s Syndrome, is about “…prejudice against people with disabilities. Or—to put it differently—disabilities different to the ones you consider acceptable…”. In ‘Morning glory in East-of-Kailash’, she highlights society’s dogmatic approach towards those that do not fit into a mould, whether it is the homosexual, the transvestite or the single woman. ‘Body in the Backyard’ a murder mystery, and ‘...

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