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Of Reprieves and Reconciliations


Asma Rasheed

RELEASE AND OTHER STORIES
By Rakhshanda Jalil
Harper Collins Publishers, New Delhi, 2011, pp. 120, 299.00

VOLUME XXXV NUMBER 12 December 2011

Rakhshanda Jalil's debut collection of ten short stories strings together gentle, at times wistful, ruminations -on what it is to be human, to be (wo)man, to be ill, to survive, to be from certain times and (un)certain locations. Sometimes in the first person, sometimes in the third person, these skillfully wrought stories prod a reader to muse on life itself. As with reviews, one can only draw on a few of these stories here. The opening story, 'A Mighty Heart', is a most ordinary tale of a middle-class woman whose teenage son dies in a freak accident on a football field. When the sons of her husband's other wife come to the funeral, she embraces them even as her ashamed husband runs away from the grieving household. Of course, the title reminds one of Marianne Pearl's memoir of the same name, and the eponymous Hollywood production. 'A Mighty Heart', then, is not just about dealing with loss that can be represented on a magnificent scale; it is also about the forgiveness and acceptance that ordinary people undergo though life deals them with an uneven, nay raw, hand. Exemplifying an ongoing concern of the collection is the story, 'The Perfect Couple'. It tells the tale of an overwrought husband falling apart when his wife-a young, successful software engineer working for an MNC- suddenly keels over. Even as his stoic mother-in-law deals efficiently with the hospital, the doctor, neurosurgery, God and her likely-to-die daughter, Samir staggers about helplessly. To add insult-to-injury his wife's colleague Ali arrives in the evening in an even worse condition than the anguished husband. The evidence of his beloved and perfect Sara being involved with another man shatters and enrages Samir by turns, until he suddenly understands the sense of grief and loss of this man and extends an arm of sympathy. (Though one cannot help wonder: what has happened to the two children in bed when their mother crumpled unexpectedly? Strangely, they never re-appear in the narrative which seems to set up a bleating Samir and the curiously unflappable mother-in-law as emotional contrasts!) A little nugget is 'The Stalker'. A married, middle-aged mother of two, not especially good-looking, notable only for her moderation -conservatism 'nurtured and bred' with 'single-minded devotio'-has attracted an unknown stalker. When she finally musters up the courage to chase back her stalker and confront him, she is astounded. The words she ...


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