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Redefining Stereotypes


Bhaskar Ghose

PASSION FLOWER: SEVEN STORIES OF DERANGEMENT
By Cyrus Mistry
Aleph Book Company, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 208, Rs. 495.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 9 September 2015

I f any evidence were needed to establish that Cyrus Mistry is one of the finest writers in India today reading just one of his tales from his collection of short stories will be more than enough. Each of his stories is intensely perceived and documented dispassionately, leaving the reader the license to react emotionally and rationally. Mistry has chosen some strange characters for his stories, but that’s why he calls it seven stories of derangement. They aren’t normal, any of them; but then, you begin to wonder what being normal means. He takes you back to stereotypes and makes you look at them again. Percy in the first story, ‘Percy’, can, when one begins reading it, be written off as mentally odd, as can Jacintha in ‘Finely Chopped Dill’. But the lines blur soon enough as one reads; Mistry writes with a sharpness and a delicate perception that can be deceptive. Released from the protective, oppressive cocoon of his daily life with his devout mother, Percy sees the ghost of his school friend who leaves him with a dire prophecy that results, as it happens, in Percy’s experiencing a sense of freedom at the end of the story as he fancies he hears music and begins a stately dance—in the author’s words ‘his face flushed and strangely radiant.’ Jacintha, a cook in a dysfunctional house, begins to imagine her life is being threatened and flees to a friend, who feeds her with lettuce soup into which she throws in finely chopped dill, an old remedy to soothe the nerves. She also takes Jacintha to a tantric called Dr. Rahim, who gives Jacintha a talisman. Whether it was the soup or the talisman, Jacintha acquires a serenity and composure that takes her back to her old job. Here, too, the writer makes no comment; he merely observes, closely, in the most real terms, the situation in which Jacintha finds herself, leaving the reader to draw such conclusions as he or she thinks appropriate. The hallmark of Mistry’s writing is the vivid quality of his perception, and the assured manner in which he communicates that to the reader. His is a spare style, free of the florid baroque manner some contemporary writers fancy. He uses detailed description, true, but when it is necessary to the telling of the story, when it is a functional part ...


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