A Night in the Hills by Manav Kaul

Remember the song ‘Ban Ja Tu Meri Rani, Tenu Mahal Bana Doonga?’  Writer and Actor, Manav Kaul definitely knows how to build castles by triggering the reader’s imagination through visual imagery, and what best than stories from the serene hills to take the readers on a tour of words. A Night in the Hills is an anthology of eight short stories, each better than the other, depicting the rawness of life, love, friendship, infatuation, and desire. Kaul’s portrayal of human nature is apt to the point and illustriously depicts the fallacies of mankind. His anthology makes space for every age and emotion, making it relatable to a wide audience base. It is best to let the readers pick their favorite ones from an anthology where each story has its own charm and aura.

A Bunch of Old Letters: ‘Sandeshe Aate Hain , Humein Tarpate Hain. . .’ becomes the theme song for teenagers who are on the verge of experiencing first love. . .  by exchanging letters. Salim, Raju, and Sunil are best friends and share everything with each other. Trouble begins when Salim’s girlfriend proposes that her friend would like to write letters to Salim’s friend.  A game of writing proxy letters, elaborate white lies and sacrifice begins among the three of them. But would such short-lived love and comical tragedy win over the eternal bond of friendship that the three share?

Kaul’s positioning of the characters is quite unique. While Salim, Sunil and Raju are best of friends one cannot deny the class and religious differences between them. What is more astonishing is the fact when Salim’s girlfriend, Meenakshi talks about the existence of communal difference between them. This reveals how youngsters are sensitized towards communalism.  A Bunch of Old Letters defines friendship in its various aspects- being a true friend, being jealous of seeing a friend excel, imagining the feelings of the otherwise denied first love, going too far for a friend and the likes.  Like all relations, friendship has ups and downs but it is on the shoulders of the friends to resolve differences or not.

Itti and Uday: is the story of a mature yet complicated relationship. While Uday is married and has a child, Itti longs for true companionship and a productive relationship with Uday.  Would Itti remain a mistress to Uday? Will he be able to give her the space that she rightfully needs? Will Itti even want to continue a relationship so claustrophobic and hush-hushed?  The story of Itti is reflective of several liberal feminists who act according to their will. Mistakes are made by all, but very few have the strength to correct it over time.

The Copy Artist: Revealing the artistic mind of a copy artist, Kaul portrays the brilliance that is supressed in the visuals and hands of a copy artist. The mundane copying of emotionless images and objects makes a person mechanical and artistically cripple. But should one not acknowledge that a copy artist too is primarily an artist? Is this a feeling that gets supressed while working as a copier? Will the narrator be able to find his true call for art or succumb to the pressures of being a dull copier?

The Swallow:  Oftentimes, relationships hit stagnancy. Love is laidback and there is no trace of excitement. In fact, individuals often start suspecting each other of not giving enough space or time or even of infidelity. Companionship seems to fade and a long silence makes the relationship choked. What happens when a lady blames her partner of being ignorant about her presence and feelings, in a slipped moment of deviation during intimacy? Can anyone be really blamed if the thoughts travel to far and wide spaces like the swallow? Would someone innocent swallow such blames or try to explain the rationale behind the actions?

A Night in the Hills:  The titular story in the anthology is bound to give you chills; especially if you happen to love some thrills. When a tourist has to return to his guest house by walking through the dense dark forest, with a man who refuses to talk; strange thoughts start entering his mind. At times, he wants to run away from the man; while at other times he is sure the man would transform into a vampire and that would be his end.   At last, hope is rekindled when he sees lights in a faraway direction but then, the man disappears.  Did the man really turn into some creature of the night; or is it more than it meets the eye?

Five Grains of sugar: For Raju urf Rajkumar life has always been okay, okay?  A self-rated mediocre person who has very little to look forward to from life, except living with his mother; listening to Pundalik, the poet; talking to Radhey, the eccentrically imaginative sweeper; and scribbling messages on truck backs. But what is special about Raju is his self-invented game with the ants, through which he has the supreme control over them. When he is put in a false position of being a poet and asked to play with words rather than keeping quiet which he is good at; would any of his dearest ones come to his rescue? Kaul highlights the worth of underestimation through this tale and it is indeed a reminder for the readers that every individual, object, or phenomenon has its own significance in the world and should be given its due when the right time arrives.

Words and Their Picture: A narrative solely driven by visual imagery re-counts the poignant tale of a man who pursues his lost love with true dedication. Would he succeed in gaining the lost trust? The story portrays how the protagonist like many others, falls prey to the decisions of society and ‘simply lived out, with honesty, what was decided for me’. Words and Their Picture describe the emotion of distancing from a relationship that cannot be saved and yet hesitating to start a new one, in case it meets the same fate.

Tragedy: Divided into three parts, the story follows the life of Inder who is hospitalised at present due to ill health. He meets a beautiful girl in the adjoining room who is recuperating from jaundice. He wants to call her Parul till he comes to know that her name is Roshni.  The narrative shifts to the past where a young Inder falls in love with his singer-classmate Parul. Would economic and class differences unite the two souls? Was Inder experiencing the fantasy of teenage infatuation, or was it true love? Does Parul reciprocate his feelings? Most importantly, would Inder’s ‘good boy’ image allow him to take revolutionizing decisions about his life? The storyline yet again shifts to the present where Roshni and Inder make the better of each other’s company while at the hospital and recollects the horrors of Roshni’s past and her abusive step-father. Her personal experiences coupled with the absence of a father in her life, makes her fall for men beyond her reach. Is it a way of taking revenge or is it a way to compensate the lack of a father-figure in her life? Tragedy talks about some of the most complicated existing relationships in modern society along with the rationale behind them.

Manav’s brilliance as a writer is expressed through his works, especially through the use of modern sentiments, relationship vacuums, and vivid imagery to portray and supplement human feelings. A Night in the Hills is an absolute must-read if you love reading about human emotions, short stories, or love to see the world through the eyes of the writer.

No. of Pages: 224

Publisher: Westland

Available on : Flipkart / Amazon