The back cover of The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories, reads: A rumour that ends in calamity; A girl who is demonised because of her ‘evil’ horoscope; A man who preys upon young girls; A train journey that forces a woman to look at her marriage anew; The gorgeous inner life of a shop girl; A child overwhelmed by the wonder and terror of his world.
Set in Kolkata and Delhi, the stories in this collection deal with love and betrayal, dogma and superstition, sexuality and thwarted desires. The characters belong to the world of urban, aspirational India where snobbery and rat race go hand in hand with class and religious conflicts. Dark or funny, satirical or poignant, these stories are as much a snapshot of modern India as they are an intense crystallization of the unpredictable chaos pervading our lives.
Dedicated to her mother, the author looks through the prism of reality to write about women and their everyday existence, thereby turning the mundane into a story worth telling.
The first thing you notice about The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories is that it looks at ‘news’ from another perspective. From the very first story it is evident that the author has taken inspiration from the happenings around and turned them in the head. This is not surprising given that she has been a journalist and continues to write on current affairs for various media houses. What surprises though is the way her stories end. Or rather remain open ended, much like poetry. Her English doesn’t make you reach out for the dictionary or google but impresses you with her felicity with words. It is not the common everyday Indianised English. Nor does it use the erudite and complex Tharoorian expressions. It is good old English that add a smattering of European romance to tales set in Kolkata and Delhi.
From the very first story, the author manages to catch your attention and by the time you reach the title story it makes you jump up in surprise. The ending is as unexpected and as subtle as it could get. With a touch of passion thrown in. The rest of the stories too keep your interest intact as the author delves into the mind of the protagonists. The story of the old decrepit bungalow being sold off brings out the nostalgia of an era gone by, losing its grandeur and giving way to the mundane. While a parallel sub plot tells yet another story, all in that one short story.
The interplay between passion and compassion forms the warp and woof of another telling tale of a modern day married life, seen through the eyes of a little boy. Kudos to Shuma for keeping the innocence intact as a seven-year- old tries to make sense of the world around him while talking about a relationship that in today’s parlance would be termed “it’s complicated”.
It comes as no surprise that most of the stories are woven around women characters. Shuma, the news breaker writes the news stories. But she writes them this time not to grab headlines but to read the minds of the newsmakers. It’s as obvious as daylight. But even if one is unaware of the real life incidents around which the fictional tales are woven, the stories, each one of them, make you stop and ponder or smile, especially if you have been a student of English Literature.
The reference to TS Eliot is quite obvious. Perhaps the author is reminding us of the Wasteland that is creeping up on us. Or perhaps it’s just her testing the waters with fictional writing. A couple of stories do read a bit vague, as if something is missing. But for a first book by a new author, this one is highly recommended reading. As Eliot said, “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go…” Here’s hoping to read more from her stable.