Late at night reading the stories from Madhulika Liddle’s My Lawfully Wedded Husband and Other Stories I knew why I waited so long before reading the book. The devious machinations the characters devise to get their sanity back is the stuff nightmares are made of. The twist in the tale endings leave you feeling bleak and second guess everything in life. I read this fine collection of short stories at the wrong time when I was wallowing in negativity. It resulted in a black mood I couldn’t shake off very easily. The hangover of hopelessness, thinking of duplicitous people and the likelihood of being taken for a ride being were swimming in my head.
Reading these stories made me feel like the writer really enjoyed writing it. The writing is effortless and the dialogue is crackling (you can almost hear it). It was a compulsive read for me but the stories will remain with me for a long time to come.
Some stories are deliciously macabre and reminded me of Roald Dahl’s The Landlady which had us flabbergasted in school. It also reminds me of Daphne du Maurier’s The Rendevous and Other Stories.
We follow the trail in fiction and believe what we are told. What if there’s an unreliable narrator? Sum Total delves into the mind of a troubled young woman. Forced to be good by her mother, she is under immense pressure. Her way of dealing with people who annoy her is to get rid of them. Turns out you don’t need blood and gore to write a chilling story.
Why do we make snap judgments about people? And more importantly, how accurate are they? We assume the friendly, gregarious ones are nice whereas surly, cantankerous people, who keep to themselves are not so nice, if not bad. In A Tale of a Summer Vacation, the fate of two sisters hangs in balance on their ability to decipher the world around them, and the people in it. The story is set in a village in Goa, which is wonderfully evoked.
Another such atmospheric tale is The Howling Waves of Tranquebar. I could almost sense the changes in the weather. Two friends meet in Pondicherry while doing their own thing. Something happens in Tranquebar, which at first glance isn’t extraordinary, but not quite normal either. The truth when it comes out is something sinister. Also, it is close to being a story within a story, in a sense. The main narrative falls by and another narrative takes over. Towards the end both unite revealing the unimaginable twist.
Knowing of and knowing someone are very different things. That is the premise the author plays with in A Brief Lesson in Trust. Geeti asks an old classmate for help, believing her to be as sincere and reliable as she was in college, even though they were never really friends.
On the Night Train and Silent Fear could have easily found a place on Aahat (a show which scar(r)ed me when I was a kid). The mind conjures up things which may or may not be real.
In Feet of Clay a crime is committed by a hawker whose daily routine involves making visits to the houses with children on a daily basis. Armed with baked goodies designed to salivate, a little girl looks forward to his visits. He stops coming one fine day and the police nabs him. Why won’t anyone tell her what really happened?
In Number 63 a couple move into a new neighbourhood and their neighbour makes it easy for them to settle in from day one. Number 63 was the weakest of all the stories but still manages to end with a twist. Simple people also have a dark side to their personalities we rarely see. My Lawfully Wedded Husband is about a husband and wife where the wife is unfaithful. Does the husband find out?
Hourie, the eponymous character on which the story is based, lives in the whorehouse with others and a madam. She unexpectedly makes a male friend, who comes to meet her regularly. The million dollar question is why. Because she has neither grace nor beauty. In St George and the Dragon there is a twist in the last line which will take your breath away. An honest government employee is oppressed by his boss. Nothing new you would think. An everyday affair. But when his lecherous boss eyes the woman he admires, he decides he has had enough. In many instances, in life, you think you are the one in control, when the fact is you are nothing more than a pawn in the game that is being played.
Do you hate people who disrupt your movie watching experience? Wanted to take them to task but never could? (Gritting your teeth and mouthing expletives to self doesn’t count.) Then The Crusader will gladden your heart.
The writing is contemporary and you coast along easily, taken in by the current. The twists are delivered in the last line sometimes. And the stories all the more unpredictable because of it.
Go slow, unlike me, else it will hit you like a ton of bricks, and you will be left with a feeling of disquiet. You never wolf down the food when you are eating a banquet, do you? You take it nice and easy, with plenty of pauses in between.
Read a detailed review here, if you are still not convinced. Beware of the spoilers!