Life Over Two Beers by Sanjeev Sanyal

A few years ago I had the pleasure to listen to the author Sanjeev Sanyal speak at a lit fest, and coincidentally the same one concluded this weekend online while I finished the book. Talk about coincidences! I took my time with his book, with short stories I always do. You see, I need the gaps to swirl the stories in my head and think about them before I can move on to the next one.

The cover reminded me of another fantastic book I read this year, Mahesh Rao’s Polite Society. The writing is lovely but that I already know from having read his nonfiction. I was surprised to find a few poems in the book. He’s honest in the acknowledgements that he’d always wanted to write a book of short stories focused on satire, and he has done just that. I liked some stories more than others; some were too factual or too short for me to register its impact.  Most of the stories have endings which turns them on their head which is reminiscent of classical short story writers.

Reading the stories I got the feeling that he enjoys taking down snobs a peg or two. The tone of the book is somewhere between taking potshots, and gentle ribbing. I can’t help thinking he must have hobnobbed with the rich and the famous. He has observed their world from close quarters because the stories have an element of truth in them. Reading about what goes on in government offices was equally fascinating and horrifying. In a story discrepancies in testing are exposed which assumes greater significance during the pandemic we’re living through.

I read the first story last because I had forgotten to read it (not a case of saving the best for the last). I enjoyed the description of the lit fest in the story not just because I have attended it but because it rang true. I felt like the author had fun (gleeful is the word I’m looking for) writing the stories. A searing and witty book. For fear of giving out spoilers, which will ruin these stories, I am mentioning my favorites that include The Used Car Salesman, Books, The Intellectuals, The Caretaker, The Conference Call, The Troll and Life Over Two Beers. I’ll be waiting for his next installment of short stories because we all need a bit of satire in our lives to make the harsh truths palatable.

Book review – Rail Romance by Krupa Sagar Sahoo


Having grown up in 1990s India, train journeys are familiar territory for me and they hold a special place in my heart. I connect them with carefree and simpler times when happiness was eating the fluffy son papdi that hawkers sell and getting a seat by the window, looking out at the ever changing terrain till I fell asleep. Trains are still the most affordable mode of transport for most middle class Indians but I suspect more than that it is the comfort of the familiar. The author of Rail Romance, Krupa Sagar Sahoo, is a Sahitya Akademi awardee and is a well known Odia writer. When I was offered a chance to review the book, I was excited to read the book (full disclosure – I am an Odia).

The first thing I noticed about the book was its cover (I always judge books by their covers!). I loved the vibrant cover designed by Tina Patankar which was so detailed that I was transported to the railway station. Incidentally this is probably the first book with a red cover that I own which isn’t gag worthy or too cutesy for its own good.

The stories set on the Coromandel Express appear in the first part of the book. Here Nakua, the fly travels on the Coromandel Express to see more of the world. In this section there are 7 interconnected stories. It was entertaining to watch Nakua’s thought process as he tried to make sense of why humans do what they do. His journey offered new insights into the 1999 super cyclone. As he saw different places, along with his worldview, mine appears to be shifted as well. I remember the gale force winds and the days being as dark as the night. There was no electricity for days. Of course, in Odisha we are no stranger to cyclones. When Cyclone Raya made its transit recently, the memories came rushing back.

The second part contains 10 independent short stories. Deftly woven into his stories are the conditions prevalent in the society. There are insights to be gleaned by reading between the lines. I am a product of this society and I may not agree with how it functions but the milieu was certainly familiar to me, sometimes to the point of being uncomfortable. It is his narration with a sense of humour that kept me turning the pages. Some of the stories had me thinking long after I finished them. The Daughter, The Gypsy Girl, The Hidden Stream, Party on a Pay Day and The Curse of the Cobra were the ones that stood out.

Continue reading “Book review – Rail Romance by Krupa Sagar Sahoo”

Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil

Time flies. Staying at home for extended periods of time when I was unwell I could feel the passage of seasons, days going by excruciatingly slow, each day with its own set of struggles and now I cannot believe such a large chunk of time has passed. The descent of time?

Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett is a collection of short stories I wanted to reread as soon as I finished the book, and it has taken me nearly two years to do it. I bought The Voyage of Narwhal immediately after finishing it, and recently The Air We Breathe has come into my possession but I still haven’t read them. What am I scared of  – her not meeting my exceeded expectations or idiotically trying to collect all her other books (very hard to find in India) while not reading the ones I do have. Life is too short to wait for a complete collection. You read along and hope for the best.

In The English Pupil, Carolus Linnaeus is nostalgic for the past and remembers his apostles (read pupils), who went about the world carrying forward his legacy, sending him specimens and discovering new species. All of his apostles are dead now, and he’s inching closer towards his own.

Linnaeus and his wife remind me of an old couple, who are in the autumn of their lives and are not at peace with it or with each other. (What is the point of companionship then?) His wife doesn’t care about his work or his legacy. His work fulfilled him but didn’t make him rich. The family’s demands weren’t being met and to her that was what mattered the most. She was the pragmatic sort. A dreamer has to be paired with a realist. It is a question of survival, you see. Continue reading “Andrea Barrett’s The English Pupil”