I remember asking my drawing teacher one day after school, ‘Sir, what should I do to improve my drawing skills?’ He answered, ‘Learn to look at everything from multiple perspectives.’ He then asked me to look at the empty classroom from where I was standing and then wanted me to lie down flat on the floor and look in the same direction. I was then asked to walk to the door and then to the back of the classroom. He then simply said, ‘Now you’ve seen the classroom from different angles and so you know it better. Try drawing the same thing by looking at it from different sides. This is what I call perspective.’ 

Perspective isn’t something that belongs to artists and architects only. Writers and poets too play with it quite often. Well, one author can do this… and so can a group of authors. I’ve just finished reading ‘Chronicles of Urban Nomads’ published by Readomania and the first thought that struck me was looking at life from different angles. There was one story where a book told a story… a book that shuddered with anticipation when ‘he touched my spine. In that one touch I knew he was a kind man. His touch, just a gentle caress, was appreciative and a little reverent…’ Another story where a Banarasi sari is busy clearing concepts ‘just as a strong beam of sunshine breaks through the fog’… There is one where a person’s conscience comes to life and another where the heart is finally able to convince that ‘love isn’t just a feeling which comes when you kiss a woman on her lips’. If I try to compare one story in the anthology with another, I would be doing precisely what one of the authors tells us in his story: ‘Honestly, there is no competition there. It was like trying to arrange the hyacinth while taking a snap of flamingo, if you know what I mean!’ Well yes, each of the nineteen stories is capable of being as organic as the other… because they all are focused on taking the reader not just around one classroom, but on a school walk-through and the diverse perspectives attempt to create a unified image of life. All that I mean to say is that even introspection, suspense, thrill, deceit, romance, and pathos are subliminal perspectives… and the collection has welcomed this abstract form of viewpoints too.

So does the book succeed in unification through diverse perspectives? Well, I loved the way the stories made me hop from one metaphor to another as if the anthology was helping me cross a massive river to go to the other side where the revelations presumably were. There were times when I had to stop in despair because some step was dilapidated and crumbling because the right network of ideas was playing truant… or another was half-submerged in some confusion… or yet another where the grammar of gravity made it take me back to where I started from. All that I am trying to say is that not all the stories were well conceived… and some did appear rather amateurish in expression. And the funny thing is that by the time I finished all my hops… that is, finished reading the stories, I found I was staring at what did appear to be the grand revelation of the mystery that life is and I was still on the same side of the river that I wanted to cross. But then, this is precisely what life is all about.

The truth is that I really did not wish to be so cerebral in this review because the stories are simple enough and some are penned by authors who are young and just stepping into this world of creative interpretations. As one reads the stories one does feel like a little nugget of fear wearing blue slippers and fighting a vicious battle while writing the masterpiece… or drawing that face on the canvas with hopes and promises written all over without realising that he is simply playing hide and seek with a rendezvous that is nothing but a shackled destiny and that the last letter to the soulmate would talk of the wait for an engagement ring whereas the truth lay in an arranged marriage! Now if this last behemoth of a sentence was a trifle confusing, I would simply explain that I tried to include the titles of almost all the stories in the anthology in a way that links them all to how perspectives sometimes try to explain themselves.

The anthology is all about ‘an itch to pen down the stories’ as each writer sees them and each story, according to the editor Sutapa Basu, ‘is a side-effect of that itch’. Frankly, by the time I had finished reading a quarter of the stories I had already fallen in love with this itch.

The book size and the font chosen did trouble me though. For some reason every time I opened the book I felt I was opening my school ‘radiant reader’… was it because the titles of each story were in sans serif or was it the size (slightly bigger than what you get in conventional fiction) of the book is something I wasn’t able to zero in on. Even the cover could have done with less number of font elements. I know it is easy to justify each element chosen in the production of a book… but then I am simply talking about my perspective. I must admit here that I have seen books with a far better dressing but with nothing inside. This one has a lot to say and communicate and converses well with the reader… but if he first decides to buy it. Publishers must, therefore, make sure that the cover doesn’t curl after being held in the hands for a few hours, the cover design must be vibrant and linked without being outright abstract, the size needs to be what suits a work of fiction and not a collection of essays for post-graduate students.

So far as this book is concerned, I am willing to overlook every flaw as many stories made me turn the pages back to re-read to be able to connect it all to my own life.

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Details of the book:
Title: Chronicles of Urban Nomads
Editor: Sutapa Basu
(A collection of short stories by different authors)
Publisher: Readomania
Price: Rs 225 (in 2015)

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Chronicles of Urban Nomads...an anthology of short stories published by Readomania

Chronicles of Urban Nomads…an anthology of short stories published by Readomania

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Arvind Passey
13 January 2015