Saturday, July 2, 2022

Arrivals and Departures - Vrinda Baliga

I really enjoyed reading this book. Vrinda writes brilliant short stories and after reading her 'The Crossing'  in the Punch Anthology of Short Stories recently, I decided to buy her three published collections - 'Arrivals and Departures', 'Mix Tape' and 'Name Place Animal Thing'. The cover designs are striking and more importantly the content struck straight home.

'Counting Elephants' starts innocently enough - a daughter back at home with her aged parents after her college and gets away from home because the father is unbearably moody. She goes on a counting elephants mission to escape the tension at home. While the elephants story unfolds, Vrinda reveals the tragedy that has shaken her home - her brother's belongings have come from the USA - and then it all makes sense. In 'Sunrise over the Kanchenjunga' we follow a family on vacation and how all the tourists seem to find it difficult to enjoy the moment - the hustle and bustle of trying to get full value, of not missing out on all the fun (and in the process missing out). 

'Arribada' is what the nesting of the female Olive Ridley turtles is called - and it is about a mother's thoughts in the process of giving birth to thousands of her daughters and how she loses so many of them. In 'The Cosmic Dance' she brings two dancers together, one who is just recovering from a deep personal tragedy of having lost her mother and her son in the cloudburst in Uttarakhand, and who hopes the dance would heal her wounds. 'A Holiday in Goa' is brilliant in the way the story unfolds - two families on a joint trip to Goa, their underlying tensions and personality differences, a momentary lapse that almost costs a life of one of the children and then, the knowledge that something had happened that should not have happened between two of the adults. 'Alcatraz' is a trip to the famous prison and how the lady decides to break free from the prison of her marriage. 

'In 'Crustaceans in the Himalayas' we meet a wife and husband who have had no children, and who decide to opt for surrogacy. They keep it secret from the family using all kinds of methods to make them believe she is pregnant until  the wife decides to go on a trek to the Himalayas in her eighth, and decides to do away with her subterfuge. Freedom! In 'The Collision of Parallels' we have a real person and an avatar, and how the creator of the avatar gets even with his boss for shutting down the game. In 'The Eclipse' we have a photographer who makes elaborate plans to watch a rare eclipse, carries his equipment all the way to Rajasthan, only to lose it - and ends up can actually watching it happening instead of fiddling with his equipment. A blessing in disguise (and he happily finds it again). 'The Crossing' is a brilliant account of nameless, faceless refugees and their travails and uncertainties, hopes and dreams. 

'The Intruder' is about a monkey that comes into a housing colony and how it heals the old man and his relationship with his child. I felt bad when the monkey goes away in the end. 'The Ship of Theseus' is about a young family out on holiday, a recently widowed husband and his two sons in Greece, and their discussion on the 'Ship of Theseus' and what it means. The kids who never could come to terms that their mothers organs have been donated,  somehow make sense of it, and the older one sums it up brilliantly to his father, that the spirit is what's important and not the planks and stuff. Brilliant. 

All her stories have this thing of somehow tugging at your heart always. And Vrinda crafts them delightfully. One can sense the effort that has gone into each one. Vrinda has this style of putting two parallel tracks which feed off one another and eventually making sense, one drawing from the  other. The stories start innocuously enough, slowly drawing you into the details of the characters and their lives and then she introduces an angle that leads up to the climax. I like the way she delves deep into the psyche of the characters. The best part I found was that she sounds so authentic in every story, as if she has been there - be it in an elephant counting mission, a photography buff on an eclipse, a refugee on a crossing, a dancer. Not for a moment does it seem like it is anyone but the character speaking - so well does she embellish her research into her narrative. Most times research sticks out like a sore thumb, like exposition, but with her style and attention to detail, it is something the character is just living, normally, with no strain or stress.  

I loved them all. Superb writing Vrinda. I'd recommend highly.

Now on to the next collection.                 

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