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Indu Liberhan

By Manju Kak
Imprint One, New Delhi, India, 2014, pp. 179, Rs. 350.00


J ust One Life and Other Stories is a collection of short stories about the ordinary person, the poor person, the underprivileged  person—people about whom very little is written, who merely find mention in passing. The author has written about them, their relationships, their feelings, their emotions, their dreams, and their aspirations with great insight, understanding, sensitivity and compassion. ‘Just One Life’ is about the fate of Chotu, a young lad who lives in a slum, and is busy learning from his ‘peers’ the art of stealing from the rich passerby. Who to target, how to steal? Does not go to school because what is there to learn in school—doesn’t help you earn. The author, with her keen sense of observation, goes on to describe the mental perturbation of Chotu waiting for his first target. What happens when he captures his first target and what happens thereafter to Chotu brings out the writer’s initial point—‘who is interested in the likes of Ramu, Kallu, Munna, Pappu anyway. Not readers of the English press surely.’ A large number of Manju Kak’s stories are women centric. Simi, married to a ‘silly Mickey Mouse’ wants  to be noticed and is willing to go to great lengths to achieve that—‘how exhausting it was to get people to recognize you’. The effect this had on her husband and how dearly she paid for it is the theme of ‘A Pillar of Society’!  Very good insight and understanding of the ambitions of a woman whose sole desire was to be an important social animal. ‘Rita’, on the other hand is the story of a young girl of marriageable age living in the small town of Colonelpura. Traditionally the parents of the girl would arrange their marriages with little or no say from the girls. However, there is the desire to ‘live’ and not just get married to a ‘kofta’ that the parents found—‘they are so boring……. wanting their wives to behave like mums.’ Rita ‘lives’ and gets into problems and faces the consequences. The story is not very unusual or unique—it’s typical of its time and social systems. It is the story telling and the unfolding of the characters which is engrossing. The Nana, aunts,  neighbours, servants are so beautifully woven into a mesh so representative of the society of the time.    There is also the story ...

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