Foreword: ‘A New Lease of Life: Stories of Reunion’ by Sarmita Dey
‘A New Lease Of Life: Stories of Reunion’ is a short story collection penned by Sarmita Dey, a writer based in Mumbai, India. In this foreword to her debut fiction anthology, Lopamudra Banerjee, her editor lucidly documents what an emotional odyssey the genre of short stories can be and what the readers can expect from Sarmita’s book.
Note: ‘A New Lease Of Life: Stories of Reunion’ is a short story collection penned by Sarmita Dey, a writer based in Mumbai, India. In this foreword to her debut fiction anthology, Lopamudra Banerjee, her editor lucidly documents what an emotional odyssey the genre of short stories can be and what the readers can expect from Sarmita’s book.
Yes, I have tricks in my pocket, I have things up my sleeve. But I am the opposite of a stage magician. He gives you illusion that has the appearance of truth. I give you truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion.”
~ Tennessee Williams in The Glass Menagerie
As an ardent reader and admirer of fiction writing in both English and Bengali literature, I have always been intrigued by the small windows into the fictional worlds of the protagonists that open up vast, seamlessly woven realities for us to absorb and explore. Be it the omnipotent tales of Rabindranath Tagore’s magnum opus ‘Galpaguchchho’, or the haunting tales of Guy De Maupassant and Anton Chekov, the realistic tales in James Joyce’s Dubliners, the 101 magical tales of the ubiquitous ‘Arabian Nights’ or the more contemporary ‘Interpreter of Maladies’ by Jhumpa Lahiri, the sweet seduction of short fiction has ensnared many readers like me due to the fact that they encompass vivid, exhaustive realities within their short narrative frames.
In fact, the words of Neil Gaiman, emphasizing on the irresistible voyeuristic delight while reading short stories, resonates with me in multiple levels. “Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back for dinner”, he remarks. As I refer to his quote, I can easily associate to his inner core from which these words spring up, remembering the endless nights I have delved into the pages of books of short stories I have been enamoured by. Those were the stories that have warmed the cockles of my heart and took me to an alternate reality from which my tangible reality seemed a stone’s throw away, and I could easily traverse into both worlds and soak them in. Novels, to me, with their enormous canvas of characters and settings and plots and sub-plots are like the never-ending, uncertain miles of a nameless sojourn, whereas short stories, with their small windows offering miniature delights, are like a short trip in a train, the memories of the trip lingering in the various compartments of my brain in bite-sized, yet wholesome morsels.
While speaking about the tradition of short stories in the Indian context, literary critics often refer to the ancient tales of the Upanishads or the Panchatantra, as well as the western influences that have shaped the modern Indian short stories in English. They also refer to the fecundity and the great variety of themes, techniques of storytelling that have defined numerous collections of short stories in the arena of Indian writing in English. I am no literary critic; hence I will not indulge in theoretical explorations of the art of short stories in this limited space. However, I would like to reiterate the fact that while reading both multiple author anthologies of short stories and single author short story collections, especially by Indian authors, very often I have had this strange sense of déjà vu, navigating the sumptuous and speedy, the dreamy and imagistic, the hard-hitting and realistic worlds of the protagonists that the authors have woven in the tales.
When Sarmita Dey, a good friend of mine from the virtual world (with the love and passion for writing being our common thread) approached me to edit her maiden collection of short stories titled ‘A New Lease of Life’, it was this very sense of déjà vu that lingered in my consciousness as I assisted her in editing and compiling the collection. The stories of vivid human experiences, meticulously strung together with the overarching theme of ‘reunion’ between long-lost friends, lovers, mother and son, siblings and more speak of the quintessential human emotions of love and longings, of endings and attaining closure, which are so effortlessly relatable to our humdrum daily lives.
The characters, at once vulnerable and strong, endowed with liberal doses of emotions and sensitivity, the twists in the tales, the various nuances of their lives depicted in their journeys made me smile and cry with them, and lingered with me. Most of the characters in the stories are the ones we see in our daily surroundings, the man or the woman or the teenager or the child next-door, with a mish-mash of the urban realities wrapped around them. They are the ones struck by the binary worlds of illusion and reality, duped by destiny and also making a pact with destiny in their own unique ways. Most importantly, they are flesh and blood humans with flaws and frailties that makes their psychological worlds more fluid and highly engrossing for the readers. In the story ‘Heartbroken’, when two star-crossed lovers, Vipin and Mili cross paths again after their break-up years back, I am swept away by the torrents of emotions that define their tumultuous journey. In ‘Twist of Destiny’, as the protagonist leaves his home, his wife and son for a deeply passionate siesta with a bar singer which continues for years, I can sense his despondency and later, his attempt to attain a closure moves me. In ‘The Apparition’, the surreal reunion between Rani, the dead woman and her lover 25 years after her death sends shivers down my spine as I feel all’s not lost with her physical death. Again, in ‘Lost and Found’, the author tells a short and sweet tale of her aunt Tilottama’s association with her priced possession, her gorgeous Benarasi saree and the festivities of the Durga puja at her home, where reunion assumes a different meaning altogether.
Enjoying the many nuances of these evocative bunch of stories centered around the broader theme of reunion, I have had a deep feeling of the powerful bonds of love between the characters that the author has tried to portray in the collection. Her style of storytelling is simple, yet there is a deep undercurrent of love, longings, pain and catharsis in each individual story that made me want to read them beyond their surface level. I hereby wish her all success with her collection of stories and hope the stories will reach the readers far and wide.
Author of ‘Thwarted Escape: An Immigrant’s Wayward Journey’, ‘Let The Night Sing’ and ‘The Broken Home and Other Stories’
‘A New Lease Of Life: Stories Of Reunion’ can be purchased from Amazon and Pustakmandi.
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