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Pointless and Trivial

Anita Desai

By Shiv K. Kumar
Vikas Publishing House, New Delhi, 1980, pp. 127, Rs. 45.00

VOLUME V NUMBER 2 September/October 1980

Shiv K. Kumar made his name in the Indian literary world as a poet. He is also a highly successful member of academe as can be seen from the impres­sive string of appointments listed in the biographical note on the back jacket of his collection of short stories. From a professor with such a distinguished career and a poet who has won respect for his clear and distinct voice, one expects to find a certain literary standards upheld even when he turns his hand to prose and to fiction. On reading these nineteen brief stories, however, one is not merely disappointed but appalled at the plummeting of all literary standards. In story after story Professor Kumar betrays his intention to titillate rather than stimulate or engage his readers. They deal with sex and marital relation­ships in a way that is not explicit so much as bedizened with tinsel and sequins borrowed from the Bombay cinema. Their titles give them away by their vulgarity and coy plagiarism: One, entitled 'To Nun, With Love' (connota­tions of To Sir with Love? But in that case Professor Kumar has missed the point of both the title and the film altoge­ther) tells of a Sister Jasmina receiving love letters and ‘vermilion roses’ from the father of one of her pupils who has heard her play 'My Darling Clementine' on the school piano: 'yet the story is neither hilarious nor pathetic but merely pointless and trivial. The flirtatiously titled 'Two Buds And a Stem' describes a menage a trois each member of which is so nasty that one can hardly sympat­hize with their situation. 'Eclipse at Noon' is the unforgivably crass title of a story dealing with a bridegroom's humiliating experience of impotence on his honeymoon. The Secretary is of course no more than a sex object ogled by her crude employer. In those stories in which foreign women figure, they are invariably portrayed as depraved, lasci­vious and immoral. When drama is attempted as in a story of the rape of East Bengali women by Pakistani soldiers, the jejune handling of the theme fails utterly to convince or to move. None of the stories has any more depth, maturity or complexity than the average Bombay cinema entertainment. What passes understanding is how a poet who must surely be hypersensitive to the finer nuances of language and trained to deal with ...

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