This is a collection of stories, short and long. Of the six stories in the collection, three are long — 40, 68 and 87 pages; and three are short — 6, 15 and 17 pages. They all relate with Indian life of North India with mountains featuring prominently. They are about families with matriarchs — called Mataji in every story in which they appear — being figures of veneration and of faintly disguised ridicule. The “Satire” in the subtitle is more mockery reinforced by exaggeration or bombast than satire as such. But that is a writer’s freedom to use words as she wishes.
Short stories are a difficult genre as you have to pack a lot in a short space. A short story should also ideally pack a surprise or some element which goes on to make you think about what happens and what could have happened if only. Maupassant’s “A Diamond Necklace” is for me the classic perfect short story. The stories in this collection are amusing though somewhat over-written. They should please readers. But they do not startle .
The first story “For your Loins, Sir”, is the story of a middle-class couple with a Mataji at the head. The wife can only bear daughters and after three, the Mataji decides time had come to have her son acquire a second wife. The downtrodden Vimla who has borne three daughters is however fearful of what may happen. Luckily for her, Mataji suffers a fall while extracting her trunk with all the gold. Vimla sees the accident but quietly turns away. She secures her happiness and liberation. She bears a son in her happy state and looks forward to turning into Mataji herself.
“Chander” is a short story of 15 pages of a servant who endears himself to his employers so much that they do not see he has been stealing valuables. The story ends in a limbo because we do not see the employer catching what is the obvious culprit but are offered no reason why.
“Lalla” is another short story of 17 pages about a spinster geography teacher in a Convent, and her day dreams and caustic observations about her colleagues. She fantasises about the PE teacher. Yet again the story peters out with a whimper.
“Mataji” is a very short story of only six pages. Yet again we have a woman of sone stature and pride ending her days sadly. When portrayed as a young beautiful vain woman one can see that the writer wants us to affectionately laugh at her. But the story is just of this woman of elegance getting old and dying.
There is a talent here which will no doubt deliver more… Yet what comes out of these pieces is that there is a longer novella or perhaps even a novel which the author has playing in her mind… That is the novel which we should expect next from this talented author.
“The Fiefdom!” is the longest story in the book, 87 pages in all. Here again the domestic theme recurs. The problem of middle-class westernised Indian families coping in the newly built beautifully furnished houses with the third-world servants who had picked up the weaknesses of the very rich who are their employers. Like in the story “Chander”, there is thieving by servants but complicated by alleged sex abuse. It is a sustained piece of writing but very much in the same theme park as in the rest of the collection.
There is a talent here which will no doubt deliver more. I found the short short stories disappointing. The three long ones are interesting. Yet what comes out of these pieces is that there is a longer novella or perhaps even a novel which the author has playing in her mind. This would be the saga that has a family, rich but not overly so, multi generation with a matriarch, a young wife already a mother coping with some difficulty while the skeletons in the cupboard and in the outhouse are rattling away. That is the novel which we should expect next from this talented author.