Conversations can never be answers. They can, at best, be guide-posts leading somewhere… within or outside the self and they can be desirable or undesirable, discovered or yet untouched, needless or vital for survival, or simply a place or a moment where you sit and let your breathe become normal before getting up and resuming your mortal duties once more. The conversations that Rajeev Nanda shares with us are just this and no more. Don’t you enter the book looking for solutions or panaceas for you wouldn’t find them anywhere. The review on bookrack clearly says: “This collection of soul-searching stories may not serve up all the answers sought but is bound to provide readers with a fresh perspective.”
You will, of course, read about unknown people who sound so familiar, incidents that appear to jump out of your own life, and relationships that don’t seem far-fetched and unreal. This collection of six poems and eleven short-stories certainly has pages that make the time spent reading them so worthwhile… however, not all is so good about the book.
The first thing that goes horribly wrong with the short stories is the use of words that seem so outlandish, archaic, and stiff at the most inopportune moments. Just when you’re about to snuggle up and start feeling the pulse of the character, just when you’re about to actually hold the hands of someone inside a story to say: ‘Don’t you worry dear, I have been through all this. I know this too shall pass.’ Or something to this effect, the character turns around and starts blabbering in a language you’ve never heard anyone in your circle of friends ever use in a conversation. Yes, you read those words in fiction too but never as a part of any conversation. Who uses words like transpired, fashion agnostic, verbalize, internalize, anterograde amnesia, preclude when they’re in college? Yes, if it were a professor of something-something using them, I’d accept… but undergrads in ‘The Truth Club’ surely wouldn’t go around with pocket dictionaries inserted in their conversations! Well, Rajeev, if you really feel strongly about including such words please make sure that the character deserves to use them.
The problem with using meaning–packed words is that they not only make a conversation unreal but also rob the dialogue of that freshness of originality.
The other short feeling of uneasiness I had was at places in almost all the stories when the character suddenly launches into a long lecture. The dialogue falls immediately from being peppy to being simply being tedious, contrived, and false. This charming example from ‘She’ tells me that the writer was simply too lazy to devise a better method to tell a reader some facts that the story will need later. The character, quite uncharacteristically, says: “I was one of the first ones on that project and therefore all the newcomers were sent to me to be briefed about the project. One day, as I was sitting in my office I heard a knock on my door. There she was, dressed in jeans and a casual top with dishevelled hair. She looked more like a college student than a software developer. I was about to ask if she needed any help when she told me that she was the new member on my project team. She must have seen the surprise on my face as she tried hard to suppress a smile, but her eyes gleamed with pride as if she had fooled yet another person.” Now don’t be shocked when I tell you that it is the husband telling his wife about a girl he met quite some years back. Yes, such dialogues do make me breathless but never with excitement…
The stories in this collection, as I have already written’ are of moments that connect well. They move on through different characters who may be a youth in conversation in a dream, a soldier conversing with the ethics of his job, college students coming to terms with their uncertainties, or even a taxi driver conversing as a fictional sandalwood smuggler! The stories do present “a series of discussions between ordinary individuals about the risks they take and the prices they pay. Each story follows a theme relevant to anyone who has experienced long life or death, dreams or futility, love or broken relationships.” There is every possibility that you’ll surface from these stories with ‘a fresh perspective about the questions you struggle with every day.’ Arthur Melzer, author of The Natural Goodness of Man, writes in a review on Amazon: “…the heartfelt chronicle of a man talking to himself. As the reader listens in, he feels reconnected to his own inner conversation.”
Gaurav Kapoor, a reviewer on the net, writes: “Don’t get tempted by the easy and uncomplicated writing style and breeze through the book. You will miss out on finer nuances and the underlying philosophical discussions embedded in the conversations of the characters. Read a story and ponder on it before you move on to the next.” I’d readily agree with the latter part of his analysis, but he is way off the mark the way he calls the writing style ‘easy and uncomplicated’. Yes, there are no heavily weighted sentences, no extensive use of a metaphorical style, and hardly any sentences that a reader may decide to use as a quote. However, this does not mean that the stories aren’t interesting or don’t have anything worthwhile to say. The language – and I’ve already said this – goes haywire and beyond logic, but then this is where slip-shod editing comes in. What the author needs is an involved editor who will pull up his writings to a level which isn’t too far away from literature!
Do these stories tell me something about the writer himself? Yes, they do. At some point in most of the stories, I did feel as if the author was ‘on a treadmill – running fast but going nowhere.’ Then again, what he himself writes in another story is partly reflective of what is going on in his own mind: ‘…he never thought of himself as being cynical. On the contrary, he firmly believed that he was very positive in his attitude and optimistic in his outlook.’ Sure, I do agree and so does Shikha Dalmia, an award-winning columnist for Reason Magazine, the Wall Street Journal, and the Los Angeles Times when she calls Nanda’s work as “an introspective collection of stories that treat philosophy literarily and literature philosophically” in her review on Amazon. Talking of the author, Rajeev Nanda isn’t the sort who is a recluse as he can be found on Linkedin as well as Facebook and has his own website too, which tell us that he ‘started writing short-stories and humorous articles for his school magazine at a tender age of 10… between 1986 and 1989 he contributed to a community magazine in New Delhi as his focus shifted to civic and social topics.’ The short biographical notes on the net also tell us that he has ‘authored articles on strategy & management of technology for magazines like Silicon India, Dataquest and e-zines. He also published his book on e-strategy (e-verything.com: How to map out a viable e-strategy) in 2001. He kept his fiction writing a private activity till 2005 when he uploaded his sample stories on American Book Publishers’ (ABP) web-site. The editorial board of ABP extended the contract in Sep 2005 which resulted in the book ‘Conversations’.’
The most encouraging fact about the book is that any potential buyer need not really depend on just reviews to make a buying decision. Samplers of his poems and stories can also be found on Google books. Besides offline stores, I did find the book on Flipkart, Amazon, Indiaplaza, and even on Infibeam.
As a final analysis, let me quote Jasjeet Kaur, who has written in a review on the net: “The characters un-abashedly discuss what could be our own deepest desires, fantasies and fears. They explore the consequences of living in the moment, making impulsive decisions, questioning the norms and going beyond the mundane. These stories provoke us to rethink and revisit the beliefs we hold about relationships- whether intimate or casual, between friends or with a higher power or temporary bonds that can develop between strangers based upon a common need.” Not that I haven’t said this earlier, but this is one fact that certainly needs to be emphasised. The stories are indeed powerful enough to make you read them despite the various pitfalls that I have mentioned… they may not be very comfortable with facts or language, but they do pop up characters that seem to be quite real to a reader and this is where the author scores a point!