Shetective : Sudha Gupta Investigates by AMBAI

Ever wondered how the word ‘detective’ almost instantly flashes names of Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot and not of Miss Marple or Bengal’s very own Mitin Mashi? Of late, the idea of the unequal representation of gender in detective fiction has come to the forefront and it is only then that readers have started recalling the names of women investigators who are value additions to this long list of sleuths. C. S Lakshmi or Ambai, India’s very own feminist writer and researcher on women studies, has contributed to Tamil Literature in volumes and has also fictionalized Sudha Gupta, another shetective who solves crimes in a jiffy. Gupta’s cases often reflect the feminist issues that Ambai herself champions for. Her cases are beyond the usual couples-trailing-each-other-due-to-suspicion-types!

I recently read the entire Sudha Gupta investigates series, which consist of three short stories. Ambai brings to forefront social evils, emotions, hidden trauma, and desires through her thrillers which are commendable, as it shifts the usual detection scenes from the monotonous dark and shady backgrounds to issues under bright daylight!

A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge 

A perfect introduction to Sudha Gupta and her work is what readers would get a glimpse of in this book. A mother, a wife, and an extremely talented sleuth, Sudha is on her way to wrap up two cases when she chances upon an old lady at the Andheri station. When almost after a span of eight hours, the lady still sits in the station; Sudha’s grey cells are triggered. What unravels next is the mystery of the old lady and how she came to be at the Andheri station. Would Sudha’s talent, empathy, and compassion help the woman in realizing her dreams or will she be entrapped in the web of worldly duties till the end of her days?

Ambai positions women’s desire, especially in their old-age as the prime theme of the story. A woman spends all her life serving her husband and the family and yet, does she truly have the freedom to take any decisions for herself? Interestingly, if a woman tries to choose an unconventional path, more often than not she is labeled as a mentally unfit individual. Ambai focusses predominantly on individualistic characters and the fact that being different is not equal to being mental. A Meeting on the Andheri Overbridge brings to the forefront the conditions of the senior citizens living in Mumbai and the whole of India per se; and how often they are ignored with the existence of their wish list being a mortal crime.

The Paperboat Maker

A chance request by Sudha’s house help to investigate a prospective groom for her daughter leads to open an array of questions. Simultaneously, when a woman requests trailing her husband who mysteriously disappears every night, Sudha finds herself on the crossroads of examining the same story through two different angles. Is the prospective groom really clear of all blemishes or does he harbors a secret? Is the woman’s husband having a secret affair or is it more than meets the eye?  Will Sudha with her band of trusted loyalists be able to uncover the mystery?

Ambai needs to be commended for portraying the basic human needs as a natural phenomenon, instead of the usual hullabaloo which follows it. Women’s desires are often misconstrued by society and their mistakes are made a mockery of for generations. But Ambai introduces strong female characters in the story which makes the readers feel like nothing is truly amiss. It is also notable how her characters accept their identity and mistakes in life, as naturally as possible, and live with their heads held high. It is a reflection of the fact that honesty is the true revelation of one’s character.

As the Night Darkens

What happens when a couple’s weekend family outing becomes a nightmare for them? Gopal and Archana along with their four children take time off from their busy schedules. However, on the eve of the day they were to return, their three daughters go missing from the beach. While the police are hot on the trails of kidnapping and business rivalry, Sudha Gupta is also asked to come in and parallelly investigate the case by unearthing any useful information from Archana. But what the investigation team uncovers at the end, is a story from the past which has a relevant impact on the occurrences in the present.

Ambai deals with some of the themes which often occur behind closed doors and within a family. The stigma attached to these is so deep that more often than not, no one tries to claim justice. From a husband-fearing wife to a paedophilic, from instability in mental health due to prolonged abuse to victim fearing,  all that Ambai writes of, shake the very foundations of humanity and the world we live in.

Publisher: Juggernaut

Available on: Juggernaut App & Amazon

Lovelocked? 8 Short Stories of Love by Debeshi Gooptu

Contemporary love is a maze of puzzles.  Life isn’t as simple as the boy-meets-girl – girl-meets-boy scenarios of the past. Today, adjectives before girls and boys have made life complicated or maybe, with the spread of liberalism, made life easy. But all in all, emotions have definitely become more complex. While browsing through the Juggernaut App for some short stories, I stumbled upon this collection of shorts by Debeshi Gooptu. Each of her short stories explores a different angle of love. From college sweethearts to office romance to love post marriage- all themes are dealt with in her stories. In this post I speak about 8 short stories of first love, each highlighting a theme of friendship, infatuation, betrayal, loss, and much more.

magazine seller

The Magazine Seller:  Ever since I didn’t get a job after my graduation’ Ujwal has been selling magazines in the local train. It is there that he spots Ananya, a professor commuting via the Kalyani local to her University every day. Both are drawn towards the other despite their uneven economic backgrounds. Gooptu has beautifully brought in the current economic crisis in the country as a parallel to the love story. Hundreds of qualified youth roam jobless in the streets of Kolkata and other cities or defeated, take to menial jobs to support their families. On the other hand, there are several who choose to serve the people, even though they come from the crème de la crème of the society. Would Ujwal and Ananya’s growing friendship culminate in a relationship?  One has to read The Magazine Seller to know.

Read here

FDFL

First Day First Love: It is love at first sight for Durga when she enters her new office. Deep, a well-known journalist with the news company Durga lands an internship with; as well as her boss becomes the apple of her eyes at first sight. But does all that meets the eye is as is? What happens when the bubble of myth breaks? Does it leads to a new beginning or endures heartbreak? Infatuation is extremely common among teenagers and post-teens. It is such that it blinds a person and reduces their ability to rationalize the situation. However, more often than not, a person cannot be determined, understood, or judged by their appearance.

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NOC

No Ordinary Crush: Sonali has always been very close to Anil Uncle, her father’s friend. What happens when years later she sees him in a different light? Is her attraction baseless or does it find reciprocation too? The author explores two significant themes in this story.  When a close relation suddenly finds a new meaning, individuals like Sonali are at a loss trying to find an explanation to the situation. They find themselves cornered and claustrophobic for the mere reason that they cannot speak to anyone about it for the fear of being judged by others. Furthermore, is love truly bound by the shackles of age? Can an individual not fall in love with an older man or woman and yet live a peaceful and loving life with his/her partner? No Ordinary Crush leaves the readers to ponder about the norm of relations and whether truly they can be broken by lovers.

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letters

The Letters: Shefali, Rajat, and Sanjukta have been childhood friends. While Shefali and Rajat leave for the US to pursue higher studies, Sanjukta stays back. The three of them are in touch for over four years through letters. However, their last letters to each other turn out to be confessions of sorts, where the readers come face to face with each friend having something to reveal about themselves. These revelations do turn their relationship complex, but to what degree is a matter of time. Gooptu touches upon a theme so relevant and yet debatably accepted in society.  Every individual has a right to choose the person they love; and love is not bound by age, caste, sex, religion, and the likes.

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connection

A Strange Connection: Akshay gets smitten by Swati from the moment his eyes fall on her during a late-night metro home. He starts finishing off his work quickly so that he can catch the same metro with her. However, Swati seems a reserved, quiet, shy, and quite a complex person; which is unnatural for a young college-goer who is often so full of life. Would Akshay be able to find out about the mysterious Swati? Would he ever be able to confess his liking towards her? An average college goer’s life is beautifully explored beyond the focal theme of the story. Today’s college students have a hundred things in mind besides studies- examination, results, competitions, achievements, parental pressure, peer pressure, early marriage, relationships, etc. These often form a heavy cloud of thoughts in their mind; which sometimes need immediate sorting out. At times, failure to do so might lead to disastrous consequences.

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piano

Don’t Stand So Close to Me: A college romance where the odd has turned against Anuradha, a middle-aged professor who is deeply drawn towards her student Sachin. Strangely it is music that binds them together and in one such musical soiree both comes face to face with a lot to say to each other. Gooptu raises a very pertinent question in this story about middle-aged single women and their needs. Every individual has a right to love and be loved. But it takes humungous battles with the self, the psyche, and the society to overcome the taboos and stand up for oneself in such situations.

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opposite attract

Opposites Attract: Can love and competition co-exist? Anjali and Rajbir are journalists who started their careers at the same time in the same news company. While Rajbir started developing feelings for Anjali, she started developing feelings for an ambitious career. Would these two opposites ever feel the attraction? Would love win over ambitiousness? Opposites Attract highlights the beauty of modern-day corporates and their ability to magically push an individual into the web of ambition. This transition is so subtle that one fails to realize when he/she distances from the loved ones and enters a world of lies where every action is measured in an equivalent pound of reaction. But do such growths really add value to an individual’s life, or it takes them away from themselves?

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maths

An Imperfect Equation: Abha, a young college-goer gets smitten by her professor from the first day of college. All she can talk about to her friends his him, to the extent that she even thinks that this is how love feels. Would she ever muster the courage to tell her professor? Would her professor acknowledge and reciprocate the same? Developing a crush or an infatuation towards school/ college professors are very common in today’s society. While some relations do mature, some result in heartbreaks and yet others realize their foolishness and move forward. It is interesting to read how Abha’s story progresses.

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Debeshi’s stories need to be seen as beyond love stories to understand the background and the society of the protagonists which hugely influences their actions. If you love short stories, then enjoy some nice love stories this monsoon and I will be back with few more recommendations soon.

Some Perumal Murugan Shorts Please!

With the stay-at-home routine becoming the new norm one has a whole new array of activities- work from home, household chores, reading new books, learning a new course, trying out a new hobby and spending time with family and pets that have been shelved off for too long, do add to the list if you have more activities in mind. For me, it has been mostly been catching up on my reading habits and with Juggernaut making its entire catalog freely accessible, I didn’t have to look too far, so I #ReadInstead. Being a fan of short stories, my first preference was to download a few by Perumal Murugan, one of my favorite authors. Having previously read his novels like One Part Woman, Poonachi, and others; I was keen to read his shorts. In this post, I talk about five of his short stories which I read and liked, you can find more in the short stories compilation called The Goat Thief.

The Well  – Who could have thought that something as simple as a well can give so much joy to people- the young and the old. When three children invite a man to take a swim with them in the nearby well, it does not strike him that the experience will be unforgettable. One just needs to be courageous enough to take the leap of faith. Once that is accomplished, the vast expanse of the well is their playground. The cold water caresses the body providing relief from the scorching sun complemented by the occasional cool breeze. The isolation of the well from the rest of the world gives the much-needed seclusion that one longs for. BUT, sometimes a well has a mind of its own. ‘In fact, it is the well’s trickery. Its invitation to step in. If a man visits once, the well casts a spell that goads him to return again and again.’ (translated from Neer Vilayattu by N. Kalyan Raman)

Ask for the Moon- When an otherwise quiet and content child starts wailing one night, it brings thick lines of worry on the faces of the family. Is it a bad dream? Is the child thirsty or hungry? Has the child been possessed by some evil spirit? Does the child need medical attention? But when two gibberish words come out from the mouth amidst the loud wailings, the family leaves no stones unturned to identify and present the child with what it was looking for. A very relatable story which shows that parents are willing to go to any extent in order to fulfill wishes and to see that their child is having a comfortable life. It is only a matter of time to see whether such an attitude spoils the child or makes him/ her understand the worth of parents and respect them even more. (translated from Peridhinum Peridhu)

Sanctuary- It is said that a child inside an individual never dies no matter how old he/she grows. When a middle-aged man returns to his native village and finds his old friends are either entwined in the shackles of marriage or have become intellectual beings, he tries to find solace in locating a group of children playing in the well and befriending them. His ‘primary motive must have been to win back my childhood’ but transcending the age barrier especially when it means to join those who are younger is no less a challenge in itself. What is physically possible by children in terms of fluidity and flexibility is impossible by the physique of a grown-up man which leads to the existence of a divide- mentally and physically. Moreover, children often prefer to be more attached to those within the same age –group. Will they accept an older man among them? Will the knots of worldliness be undone?  Will childhood overtake the persona of the man? Sanctuary is a story of letting go of the inner fear, shame, stigma, and prejudice to be able to complete ones transgression through age. (translated from Pugalidam by N.Kalyan Raman)

The Man Who Could Not Sleep- Muthu Pattar is a man famous for his sleep patterns. Going straight to sleep after a hard day’s work and waking up exactly when he wants to is his forte. But what happens when he suddenly starts showing signs of sleeplessness? Is it the village demon who has taken hold of him? Is he diagnosed with terrible insomnia? Is something in his unconscious mind worrying him that he has had to let go of his peaceful sleep? A simple story of how one man’s anxieties take hold of him and those around showing beautifully that sometimes problems are not only of those who are facing them but also for their dear ones. (translated from Kombai Chuvar by N. Kalyan Raman)

The Unexpected Visitor- The elders usually find a daily routine for themselves in the peacefulness of the village. They garner respect but are also victims of banters from the local men and women folk. Such is the daily life of Paati, till her granddaughter leaves her son Kunju with her. This changes the way she has been living alone for years and makes her adapt to all the changes that would ensure Kunju to have a comfortable life in the village. She starts making new dishes for him, worrying if he gets late while playing with his newfound friends, and tries to give him everything that he wants that makes him happy. It is almost as if she has a new objective in life. But with old age comes an enormous amount of self –doubt especially when it comes to taking the responsibility of a child. Will Paati ultimately be able to manage this responsibility or will self-doubt take the better of her? (translated from Veppenei Kalayam)

Murugan’s short stories reflect the simple village life but if you read between the lines of the instances, they are not –so –simple. Each story is bound to take you on a contemplating spree about life and the way we choose to live it. There are several other short stories by Murugan and you can read them in the compilation available on Flipkart, Amazon, and Juggernaut App.

So, Keep Reading until next time!