Writing fiction is daunting if you ask me. Being a poet for most of my life, fiction seems challenging. It needs a certain clarity in terms of thoughts, characters, flow, language and a little drama to make it seem interesting for the reader. While fiction itself is a dreamy universe, short story writing as a form is a cluster of stars to chase. In this form of writing brevity is the soul and a tight plot is the heart. I have recently ventured into short story writing and I can hopelessly admit that it is difficult to punch in the essential elements of fiction writing in just about anywhere between 1000 to 4000 words without losing on the entirety of the story.
While I cry over my struggle of short story writing action, many writers have aced it and made their mark in the literary world. Whether it is Anton Chekov, Robert Bolano, RK Narayan or Ruskin Bond their short stories are sure to sweep the ground off the floors. With indulging plots, unique characters and distinct details they make these stories effortless and mesmerizing in equal halves. Some of the short stories that are etched in my mind are – ‘Boo’ by Manto and Ismat Chugtai’s ‘Lihaaf’. The stories so solidly remain in me that I can still visualize the ambience, the characters and the feeling that I was left with once I finished reading them. Of course, such is the beauty of firm writing but to capture the soul of a story in shorter verse is definitely an art and a skilled practice.
1. The Adivasi Will Not Dance
Written by Hansda Sowvendra Shekhar, these stories reflect the absolute reality of the Santhal community. I had heard of Hansda to be a prolific writer and had picked this book as many of them had recommended it as a must-read. For a change, the recos didn’t seem to be disappointing at all. These raw and as-the-world-is 10 stories narrate the truth – ugly or not. Whether depicting the government employee’s tale who is posted in a holier-than-thou locality or the tale of a hungry tribal woman who sells her body for a meagre amount, these in-your-face stories represent the part of the world that we are comfortable to ignore.
2. The Women Who Forgot to Invent Facebook and Other Stories
This collection is a mashup of the good, bad and the ugly of the technology engulfed world that we are living in. The 12 stories jotted here are trips of women who meander through virtual and actual spaces deciphering their own rationalities in urban lives. With a tongue-in-cheek language and quirky characters whom we encounter every day, these relatable tales are exciting, making us go ‘dil mange more’. Nisha Susan’s debut collection laced with stark humor, unapologetic characters, sputtering stories is a must-read for this or any season.
3. Diwali in Muzaffarnagar
The conventional idea of a small town is languid days, peaceful roads and an almost blissful mind. This collection precisely shatters this stereotype about small towns. Tanuj Solanki writes stories of young men and women from Muzaffarnagar – the broiling town of communal violence, brash behavior and middle-class dilemmas. These 8 stories put together lives of people who move away from the town and make a living elsewhere, all the while pining for a sense of belonging that they feel in Muzaffarnagar. This collection captures the commonality of many questions we come face-to-face in our lives and that itself is a feat for any writer.
4. The Curse Stories
I have read Salma’s striking poetry and followed her work (translated) through the years, but I had never read her fiction. On a working day as I went for a stroll to Goobe’s to check out some books, I happened to stumble on her short story collection. I picked it up without a second thought and I am glad I did something sensible this new year. This collection of stories represents women in rural setup and mostly hailing from Muslim communities of Tamil Nadu. Salma knits the stories with a punch of the real noise that not-so-privileged women must deal with. The stories picture vulnerable, strong, bold and meek characters – each a painting of the larger canvas named society. This collection has stories that each one of us is aware of and know that exist as plain truth.
What happens when a gay man is trapped in our society? This collection of 10 such stories help us navigate through the lives of such men. Penned by Vasudhendra in Kannada, these stories become a collective voice of many gay men who have lost their words to societal norms and pressure. Though queer literature is gaining prominence, its penetration in regional languages is still a long fight. These stories in such situations become the need of the hour that reflect the prejudices and conventions that are upheld as passable. From ‘The Gordian Knot’, a short about Mohanaswamy and his newly lost love with Karthik, who leaves him to marry a woman to ‘Bicycle Riding’ where he tries to reverse his homosexuality, each story is filled with pain, guilt, confusion that a gay man is filled with until he understands his truth and accepts it. This book of stories is a must-read for every reader.
As short stories take the literary world by the storm, let us watch out for many more fresh voices with captivating storylines in short pieces. This list can go on with many reading recommendations including Manto’s ‘Bitterfruit’, Jhumpa Lahiri’s ‘Interpreter of Maladies’, Rheea Mukherjee’s ‘Transit for Beginners’ and more. This form of writing is an indulgence and must be relished by every reader. Until then, let me hone my craft and cull some more stories out there. It seems I have a long way to go.