The fragility of the aged, raciness of the illicit, achiness of nostalgia and aging bones, the darkness of lust, tender cares of motherhood, the inevitability of fading youth, travails of escapism, and troubled demons of haunted pasts – each story is woven to create an elaborate tapestry.
Book: Bombay Hangovers
Author: Rochelle Potkar
Genre: Fiction, Short Stories, Indian writing in English
Our world is made up of stories and most have already been told. It takes an exemplary storyteller to bring life to the mundane and the inconspicuous. Unabashed rendering of exotic yearnings, sensitive descriptions of romantic longings, intense emotions of despair, the gravity of age, trappings of secrets, and a gamut of vast emotions, and scenes flow through the pages of Bombay Hangovers by Rochelle Potkar. The book title is reminiscent of a city, clinging to a past, delving in intoxicating memories of humans, with all their flaws and follies, oft succumbing to the power play of destiny.
Exotic words describe marital bonds from early years of lustful romance to the complacency and frustrations of tired householders. The fragility of the aged, raciness of the illicit, achiness of nostalgia and aging bones, the darkness of lust, tender cares of motherhood, the inevitability of fading youth, travails of escapism, and troubled demons of haunted pasts – each story is woven to create an elaborate tapestry. This is not a leisurely read because it digs into the crevices of fears and passions, dreads and desires, showing us a mirror, bringing to life a society that we ignore. Yet, it pulls you in, word-by-word, page-by-page, as it rips away the facade and unmasks the raw truth pulsating in the heart of Mumbai.
The stories delve into different social classes in the city of Mumbai, as it is now known. Metaphors and analogies embellish the book, revealing research and understanding of the nuances of geometrical terms, workings of a cotton mill, the Goan real-estate, the dhobi ghat, the underbelly of city life, just to name a few. Details are rendered with care, without haste, each word conjuring imagery, sometimes leaving you embarrassed, mostly engrossed. The no-holds-barred flourish of a bold pen takes you on a breathtaking journey into the lives of ordinary men and women.
A few typos are glaring, a sudden shift in the person of narration is disconcerting, and you wish these were not there. Amidst all the beauty of the words, I felt the writing could have been tauter in some stories. Some descriptions could be less superfluous, allowing the reader to savor the exquisite composition and leave some space for musings. The comparatively shorter stories are my favorite in this collection of 16, as they are the most impactful. The introduction is exquisitely written though it contains insights into stories so you may want to read it after diving into the book.
They say sights make lasting memories and a touch imprints forever. However, it was the smells that lie splattered across her memory-scape. This story traces an olfactory journey of a lifetime as she put pieces together, wondering what lies next.
1980 – It is the smell of soap – an expensive luxury bar of white soap. The silhouette of a man with that soapy fragrance is still vivid. She was barely 3-years old. She can recognize that smell anywhere but does not come across it often. She cannot remember who he was, yet the distinct memory captures her.
She frets that she needs to dig deeper into the recesses and find out why the fragrance of that soap and the man are so alive in her mind even after 40 years. There are no answers; she does not even know whether that time was good or bad; whether that memory points to any event in her life. The lack of an answer makes her uncomfortable as they remind her of an unknown man and his soapy odor from when she was barely a toddler.
We are all made up of stories. A keen observer of life, Judith Ets-Hokin picks up some interesting ones and brings them to us in a collection with an intriguing name—Plastic Jesus and Other Stories. A medley of 13 stories with an array of themes, Plastic Jesus is a good weekend read.
The stories are of varied length, The Hunt, being the longest, and encompass myriad emotions and terrains. The writing is fluid and deep, with intricately depicted scenes, intense characters, and ebb and flow of emotions showcasing linguistic penchant.
The author breathes life into inanimate objects and nature, but mostly exhibits insights into human emotions. Love, loneliness, grief, loss, fate, ambition, smugness, doubt, independence, self-sabotage, virtue, vice, urbanization—the shifting sands of the stories keep you engaged, as you turn the pages of this slim book.
A story may be open-ended or conclusive, but resist the temptation to hasten to the end; capture the essence of the tapestry of words. I enjoyed a guessing game while navigating the pages, as each character and their space is sensitively worked upon. The first story is my favorite with its element of suspense. In a couple of stories, I felt the ending was predictable and similar.
The joy of the ride is in the beautiful writing; in the delicate balance of saying more in fewer words. Humans are oft in conflict with themselves or with others as they fight for the rights of people and animals. Stories that leave you wondering, fill you with suspense, or grief, or make you wonder—all tightly packed with crisp and meticulous writing.
The storyteller in Judith Ets-Hokin invokes thoughts and weaves in magic, figuratively and literally. She moves around in different walks of life, manifold worlds, myriad people, thus creating stories rich and fulfilling. Special applause for the artistic book cover. Grab your copy for stories—long and short—and enjoy a perfect reading weekend.
It was a sultry afternoon. The day stretched endlessly, waiting for twilight. The orange popsicles stained his tongue but didn’t quench his thirst. He wasn’t sleepy for lack of physical activity. He read books, heard songs on his laptop, played mobile games but time stood still, fatigued by the heat of the Indian summer.
Bored, he picked up his drawing kit and started sketching a treasure map to reach the fabled pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. He drew ardently, painstakingly filling vibrant colours in the verdant landscape, flora, and fauna. The emerging terrain captivated him. He paid attention to every tiny detail. The sound of wax crayons against white paper, echoed the unstoppable rhythm in his delicate fingers.
Beyond the tanned mountains, arched the seven colors of mystic beauty. At the corner of the sheet, a speck glimmered. He added final touches to the elusive gold and rested the point of his crayon, in a finishing move, just as the first star of the night rose in the burnished horizon. In the twinkle of its light, with sweat beads on his brow, he sailed through the azure skies, having fallen from the edge of the map.