Friday, July 8, 2022

Name, Place, Animal,Thing - Vrinda Baliga

 I love Vrinda's short stories and bought all three of her books. One of them (Mix Tape) has not reached me - thanks to the Amazon delivery chap who left it someplace else and it lies there - hopefully giving some happy reader great satisfaction. I read 'Arrivals and Departures' and reviewed the same and here I am with NPAT now. 

It's a collection of 10 stories - one of which, 'A Holiday in Goa' I read in the other collection - fascinating story. The other stories in this collection are equally intense, beautifully structured and crafted, and touch a very vulnerable part of you. As usual she strings together two threads, two parallel stories where one draws from the other, and I love the ease with which she does that. 

'At Loose Ends' is about a puppeteer family from Rajasthan and how the older generation treated their art form like a sacred art and how the younger generation has no time for it. It ends rather painfully with the young man throwing away the puppet - the narrator - and putting the old man into serious trouble. 'Name Place Animal Thing' is about growing up pains - how a new girl in class disrupts the peace of two friends and their private club, moves things around and in the desire to right a wrong, or even to push what she sees as meekness, incites a tragedy. 

'Stranger Anxiety' leaves you feeling a sense of loneliness as a widowed father welcomes his daughter and granddaughter home when the daughter has a domestic issue. His bonds with the granddaughter develop and one sees purpose and happiness return to his life, when the couple makes up and the daughter goes back. The granddaughter leaves behind a toy. Again, heavy on the heart as Vrinda explores spaces that are difficult to access otherwise, heavy stuff.

'Siege' is about a tour guide at Golconda Fort and his increasingly strained relationship with his son. In one moment he feels - when has my son stopped showing me his paintings which he used to as a child and he realises that he did so when he had made light of those paintings. It's a moment that tugs at your heart - I experience that when I suddenly realise Anjali has grown up and there are things she does not share with me like she would when she was a child. The strained relationship between the father and son changes - perhaps with the father's change of heart, his acceptance that the child has grown. All's well that ends well but as in all her stories Vrinda leads you on an emotional roller coaster. 

'Preparing for life in a dead man's home' is this incredible story of a young girl who has access to a neighbour's house who she believes died in the tsunami and whose house she uses to escape from her own and prepare for her exams etc - until one day he returns after an year. The way Vrinda takes you on a tour of that house makes it comes alive with a dead man's possessions - incredibly sharp and sensitive writing.

'Bonsai' ends on a chilling note - a paying guest, an ambitious and controlling daughter in law, a reclusive, reticent mother in law who grows bonsai plants that are worth a lot of money - and a son whose growth somehow got stunted just like the plants. When the paying guest returns after eight years much has changed - the old is not there anymore, and the new has come. But has it happened the way it should have or did someone hasten the process? 

'Packers and Movers' is a moving story of a friendship that starts when a family moves to Hyderabad from Bangalore and all that happens between the time the neighbour helps the lady of the house to unpack and the time when she packs to move again. Much happens in that time and Vrinda beautifully brings out the subtle emotions one feels - a single mother looking for a relationship, a young wife looking to be a mother, two children with growing up pains. 

'Fifteen Minutes of Fame' is about an extra in film shoots who finally gets her fifteen minutes of fame rather accidentally which redeems her prestige in her family's and her neighbour's eyes. 'The  'Everlasting Car' is as much about the good old Standard car that the narrator remembers and how it shared so much of their lives, as it is about Bangalore of the old. Again Vrinda connects the subtle emotions of the past that seem to be gradually fading away and brings them to the present and it does bring up thoughts you perhaps do not want to stay with when you're lonely.  

Once again I am left amazed at the kind of stories Vrinda puts together and I am very interested now in interviewing her to get a sense of how she approaches her stories and constructs them, how she researches for them, how she makes herself the character - nowhere can we see her appear in any story - the characters simply hold the stage with their drama. Most importantly I would like to know how she gets into the soul of those characters, understand their pain and show it in such simple ways that absolutely hit home. She has a rare talent. 

Superb work again Vrinda and now to get my second copy of 'Mix Tape'.  And for readers who want to read some wonderfully well crafted stories, I fully recommend this book.

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