Mango Chutney: An Anthology of Tasteful Short Fiction

Edited by Harsh Snehanshu

Rumour Books India

ISBN: 978-81-929532-1-2

Mango Chutney Book Cover under lamp shade

Well, there’s not much that I can write to introduce this anthology of 27 writers other than admitting that it was indeed a Chutney of varied flavours: some sweet, some salty while some were like neutral placebos to attenuate the effect of the previous tangy story. You gave me 27 short stories. 27 short reviews is what you will have. Now please note that I’ve recorded these thoughts as soon as I finished the stories (for I have read most stories after some gap in between) lest I may forget what I read and felt. If it is too critical, or too flattering, or too biased, hey, that is me - your sincere reader.

Miracle - Sayan Haldar: Nice suspense, but I cannot be sure if the rationale behind the story was to be virtuous and resistant to temptations or the story was in place just for the twist in it. Here we see the fickleness of human character which takes sides, justifies actions and does not question the giver (if it was ethical, if it was good or evil, God, or a masquerade of God) when we’re reaping the benefits, but only realize too late after giving into temptation that it was a trap. Should man be what Lakshman intones after Ram obliges to request the sea to give way:

“Naath Daiv Kar Kavan Bharosa,

Soshiya Sindhu kariya man rosa,

kaadar man kahun ek adhaara,

daiv daiv aalasi pukara”

"No reliance can be placed on the freaks of fortune. Fill your mind with indignation and dry up the ocean. Fate is a crutch for the mind of cowards alone; it is the indolent who proclaim their faith in fate."

Should one persevere and reject any chance blessing (or curse disguised as blessing)? Or should gather the fruit lying on the road, content that it is a blessing? It is a long debated conundrum and a matter of personal faith and preference.

The Creation of Love - Deepti Menon: The first para does not make any sense, at all. It is out of place and has the hazard of confusing the reader if the story is running in present, or in past. What did the young man do, what was he resolute about, and when? After the woman showed him her plight when he confessed his love for her, or when he first found her? When did we transition from the story of what happened in the morning to the present when we are flowing with the story’s present. Had this first para not been there, everything would have been more fluid. Why did you have to fit the Taj Mahal - The monument of Love like a square peg in a round hole. The story jumps awkwardly from first person to third person and back like a ride on neglected Indian road.

Anyways, getting the first para aside, the story is understandable, frail and almost real. It gets smooth after the initial hiccups. I am glad that he couldn’t have her. He didn’t actually love her according to me, but the character that he saw in her. He might have disappointed her, and me, later. Apart from that, lots of adjectivized details, and I am not sure if that was too necessary.

Wintersong - Anuj Gosalia: I didn’t quite get it - was it an incestous relationship or just a fatherly figure wanting to cry his heart out in the bosom of his daughterly neice. What did the alcohol do exactly?

My Grandfather Shirt - Shikhandi: It was the first story of this book that I liked from the title to the conclusion. Very interesting, more so because of the pseudonym and the character narrating the story. The pseudonym and the story are totally in harmony increasing the appeal and the mystery. Quite resonant, and still girlish. Three words: I like it. Skin is contagious, but, oh well, I’ll tell you someday.

Benched - Abhilasha Kumar: I can’t write stories like you do and that is essentially the whole point. When a lay reader like me reads you and says, “but of course”, you know you’ve written good. It was that ‘but of course’ kind of story to me, because the two friends were pretty much the same person.

Plus, the ‘Kumar’ and ‘Kumari’ distinction has always confused me, and when I was half done with the story, it felt like it was written by a guy. To be more correct, it was written by someone driven by the logical mindset rather than the emotional mindset, by someone who deals with the rationality and absurdity of things and frets about them, or at least broods long and hard. So, I turned the pages and the author has been a student of Mathematics in IIT-D, I wasn’t wrong in my assessment.

A good portrayal of angry emotions and the collateral of following and not following one's dreams. But, it didn’t end well, judging by my taste buds. Too abrupt, too disconnected.

The 37th Milestone - Abhishek Asthana: The first irony that stood out in the character (again aptly portraying our long held habits) was how one complains about the corrupt government on seeing a road riddled with potholes and yet, doing nothing but spitting the ‘paan out of your car window’. An interesting proposition was that the people of Jhabua had only recently taken to civilization, and yet knew how to write (and also do black magic).

The sentiment of being an outsider and scared is pretty much okay, it heightens sensitivity to threats, which is neatly depicted here.

A little nook that I couldn’t help but notice was that the author recited the story in first person, and yet, at times spoke as the narrator, rather than its character. Like “Out of courtesy, the juniors hesitated, but eventually gave in and packed their stuff into the minivan”. Well, how do YOU know for sure if it was courtesy or they really meant it? Until the junior doctors had left, there was only approximate time, like ‘evening’, ‘morning’ etc. but suddenly, it went all precise - ‘... the power came back on at 8pm... ‘.

Overall, a nice story with more of the apprehension of a fearing man until the very end (when it all was validated as black magic).

Valentine Lost - Sidhharth: Cliched, because it doesn’t show the maturity of growth as we age, but the stubbornness of a child (24 year old, perhaps?). On a second note, it feels right. We seldom return to rethink about our past with our new eyes of maturity as we grow. We carry it along as dead weight, with the same scars of stubborn and naive but innocent youth. We don’t let go, and it is quite real.

Tainted Read - Aathira Jim: Erm, what kind of dysfunctional relationship are we talking about? I know, I know, a non-loving husband who has his first wife in the form of a job, and the other is only there to serve food, and body as a matter of ritualistic right. It is a perspective, of Renuka, a victim being demonstrated here. It could be a story of many actually (the first part). But, what did she do after getting fashionable? Just walk the streets, maintain herself for no-one? I felt that the story didn’t reach a suitable closure, quite unlike real life. Even a mini-closure would suffice.

The Birthday Boy - Harsha Pattnaik: Much ado about nothing. A sad story of a sad man, okay narration. A little cliched, particularly because I haven’t heard of any such situation that I could relate to, except that we seldom remember the good times as vividly as the hurt. That part is true.

The Girl Who Owned Castles - Giribala Joshi: The story is much like the title, castles - in the air. Not because it is unreal - it could be the story of many - but because it ended too soon (read, without justice). The killers got away, and though the bus to Jammu was full of devouts, some divine justice was much awaited which never came. A lot of loose ends - No stink, people didn’t find her even when her parents knew she had been abducted, her cellphone was missing (and with the killer), the ATM card which he retained (probably because he hoped that parents would fill her coffers up) and a few other things.

A funny thing to notice is that Nidhi was the studious type, and yet, even in the night at 3:35 a.m. when she should have been too sleepy, she had the interest of an ‘up for gossip woman stereotype’. Oh, and her husband too.

The perfectly poached Egg - Ramya Maddali: Good one. A recipe in a story and an interesting style of presentation.

Sawai - Arjun Bhatia: This one is beautiful, not because of the italics, but because the story isn’t too grand or too cliched. It justifies the title, a wonderful narrative.

Someone with Character - Alka Gurha: Ah! Character. This story is good, subtle and carries the necessary punch until the last line. It reminds me of a recent read from Harishankar Parsayi’s satire ‘badchalan’ in ‘Viklaangh Shraddha ka Daur’. It is wrong to be weak.

Vaman - Rohit Gore: Interesting. Fiction. A malady, and a dream. Very interesting. Feels like a dream retold just after waking up. Our rational mind trying to connect the dots of the disconnected sequences of the dream which felt so inter-related.

Not Understanding Schnapsens - Shweta Mukesh: The title said it all. perhaps, the story was more about the conversation, but a little education is necessary before telling such things. What did the American do? She won? I don’t know. Also, first she came across as a closed, terse girl, and then in the next moment, she is all dreamy about ‘what happens in India’, and then suddenly, she’s back to being terse. She is severely selective, and so is my liking for the story. In parts.

The Lost Cause - Krishnaroop Dey: It is good, amusing, but is not written by someone who is happy about achieving something; rather, is okay with no-one around him winning (I am not against pursuing your own dream, but that doesn’t mean deriding someone else’s. Then again, a little delusion is necessary I guess).

Though, the ficklemindedness of the coach is amply shown and is in itself quite amusing. The plethora of institutions that have proliferated at the expense of offering coaching for the sacred altars of engineering education in India, which might be more swindle than substance is something parents should really worry about.

End of a Weekend - Ruchika Goel: Beautiful narration, good flow and description of the mundane. A very likeable story. But one question, why do you HAVE to have a broken person? Don’t whole people make a story whole?

Friendzoned - Shruti Vajpayee: It was a LOL read, quite bubbly. If I am any curator of personalities, this one character of an author must be a fun, happy go lucky kind.

Hamsanadam - Pavithra Srinivasan: To the uninitiated like me, it sounds mystical, almost mythical and reading someone else’s music instills a feeling of lack in self. To the philosophizing person (like me), it all makes sense. As if I could spell out music the moment I opened my mouth. Alas, it doesn’t, but the description makes sense. To a critic, it seems more like brandishing of skill or knowledge in music rather than in storytelling. (It does make me want to read a little about music too, and yes, I did Google up Raga Surabhi, which is infact, a website). I think it wanted to depict the liberation that is in music, not just for the mind, but for the body too.

But, it has beautiful allegories when comparing music. While some allusions are very beautiful to imagine, they don’t translate to something measurable in real life - example: “My lips, in fact, had to be held just as far apart as I would before a slow kiss.” (The non-quantifiable, what is the measure of a slow kiss?) “... It amused me, thinking that if I were to open too wide and prepare to utter a rebuke rather than request a kiss, my Hamsanadam would slip into a different ragam…”. We all know how to utter a rebuke, the constraints are relaxed. Then, “... of its ability to turn the ‘Maa’ into a playful, pleading waterfall draping over a mountain and plunging into a valley.” too is beautiful.

The Life-Changing Present - Ashwini AshokKumar: I knew it when he gave the present. Short and sad.

The Rejection Ceremony - Shubham Kapur: To be honest, this story left me a little angry, not at the people who rejected Prasanna (they’re far too many), but at Prasanna. While it is okay for Prasanna to have a positive body image about self, everyone else too has their right to chose and to reject (their hypocrisy notwithstanding as of now). They too have their own ideas of the person they want to be with. I don’t think anyone’s implied meaning can make us feel guilty in the first place (sometimes it can, but only if we know what it implied). All they can do is to make us feel MORE guilty (which means that somewhere, we do know that we are a little guilty).

Besides, a writer is a writer, not a grammar nazi. ‘Me too’, makes more rhythmic sense to me that ‘I too’ (and in case you’re wondering when to use what, read this, and thank me later, I am enlightened to know, and yet ‘me too’ will suffice).

The proof of birth - Urvashi Sarkar: The entire story held itself in ambivalence. The role of father was unclear. Perhaps, I didn’t get the point. Was it a mild case of OCD? I can see the guilt pangs of the daughter, and her indifference is almost inevitable even if it is just a wall to stop the barrage of questioning eyes while she works out the finer parts secretly. But I didn’t get the point of this regress cycle.

One a penny - Krshna Prashant: She was asked to write one short story, she wrote four instead. But interesting stories, quite good.

Angels and Demons - Purba Ray: OK story, but very well knit. Exposed many stereotypes prevalent in society, in both men and women. Frayed storylines, all correlated. I am just thankful that Sivan lost his composure faster, before he could do more harm. Reminds me of a certain picture where the camera captures the silhouette of a man running behind the other with a dagger in his hand, when the actual scene is quite the other way round.

On the other side - Sakshi Nanda: The foreboding sense of detachment is ever present in this story, as if, something is leaving. A few questions that puzzled me though were like: of all these years, they didn’t see the tattoo on her wrist? Or, who puts a permanent tattoo on a 6 week old baby? After so many years, she still had to bribe her driver?

Relations of blood find ways in heartbreaking ways. It could have been a heart-tugger of the likes of Khaled Hosseini, and tug at the heart it did, but fell a little short. Somehow, details were out of place, almost inopportune and inappropriate in many places - too early, or too late to have their effect.

Prem Ki Chashni - Sudhanshu Shekhar Pathak: In many ways, a complete ‘short fiction’. It was very nice, and a deeply beautiful story. The emotions were real and the flow was good (though in many places, I felt that the Hindi version must have been much better). Translations by other people often miss things, sometimes in words, and sometimes in expression.

The Postman - Riti Kaunteya: Yeah right, they must have been teenagers, or fresh into their twenties. OK.

Note to editor: Good work. Please mind the typos. All the best.

Note to reader: In case you want to buy the book right now (inspired by my not so reviewing review), you can click here to buy it from Amazon. (There's 50% discount on it at the time of my posting this review).

P.S.: Krshna Prashant is a girl (and I mistook her for a boy). I stand corrected and sincerely apologize for my carelessness.