Title: Silent Realities
Author: Ranjan Kaul
Publisher: Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2016
It is not an easy job to fabricate arresting stories out of very ordinary characters. The best feature of Ranjan Kaul’s short stories is that they engage us from the first line to the last. We get glued to the characters. There’s a rare kind of suspense that Kaul creates in his stories. It is not the suspense we find in thrillers and other categories that usually make use of suspense. It is rather the suspense that life carries inextricably with it particularly in the case of vulnerable characters.
The reason why Kaul’s stories fascinate us is that the characters are all taken from the next street or the next door. Ashalata who makes use of her little daughter to steal ladies’ handbags in the first story, The Handbag, Lallan who becomes a tragic victim of a corrupt and insensitive socio-political system [Lallan]and Hari who runs away from home because of the apparent insensitivity of his grandmother [The Slap] are all characters that come alive very vividly and credibly in our imagination. They demand our attention and sympathy though none of them are heroic in any way.
Fish and The street Sweeper touch the realms of fantasy. The world created in Fish is a stark contrast to the one we find in Lallan. The former entices us with its simple goodness and magnanimity while the latter shakes our conscience with its blatant insensitivity and cruelty. The Desk presents the “make-believe” world of the corporate sector where the characters don’t even have names; they are referred to as letters such as D, N and R.
It is not always the human beings that make the world a harsh place. Life itself carries certain harshness as seen in The Toy Car. The Nest is a story which shows that at least some of the horrors are our own creations. The last story in the collection, Touch, reinforces the same theme that we sometimes make our life miserable with our attitudes and unwillingness to make necessary compromises.
Peeping is a story that stands out as unique in the collection. It is not the magic realism alone that sets the story apart but also the theme. It deals with the psychological make-up of the individual who is mere a peeping Tom incapable of taking action where action is necessary.
We live in a world of moral vacuum and the author of these ten stories succeeds in portraying that moral vacuum effectively. Perhaps that success is a drawback, albeit rather insignificant. We may end up asking the question: “What is the meaning of life if it is only this vacuum that we are condemned to live in?” The last story, Touch, leaves us with a hope: that a touch can make a world of a difference. It is not that the compassionate human touch is entirely absent in the other stories. But the vacuum dominates. Sensitive readers may be left with a longing for something beyond that vacuum, like the touch in Touch or at least the protagonist’s sleeplessness in Peeping.
Overall, the stories entertain and engage the reader. To that extent, the writer is successful.
PS. I won a review copy from The Tales Pensieve as part of Reviewers Programme. Register on #TTP for lots of #book fun and activities.