Neelesh Misra’s Storywallah is all about the fast-disappearing world of old-fashioned love.
Love blossoms at the unlikeliest of places, with the unlikeliest of people, in the strangest circumstances and in most spontaneous and natural ways. An elderly couple grappling with the loneliness caused due to the death of their respective spouses, living with grown-up children, decide to cut across boundaries of religion and social stereotypes to find love and companionship at their advanced age, sans its typically youthful haste or rashness of actions. A middle-aged man living in the cocoon of a passionate love that was nurtured over letters with a pen pal but inexplicably snapped short at a young age, finally opens up to his wife to find complete acceptance and embraces love. A young woman comes to terms with her dead mother’s extramarital relationship and unexpectedly finds solace and resolution in life. Many such well-chosen, heart-warming stories exploring the myriad facets of love are on offer in the collection, Storywallah.
Storywallah is a bouquet of twenty stories written by nine writers from Neelesh Misra’s famed Mandali founded by Misra in 2011, comprising of handpicked and closely mentored upcoming writers. It is this Mandali which churned out the vast repertoire of lyricist, radio storyteller, journalist and writer Neelesh Misra’s extremely popular shows like Yaadon ka Idiot Box, The Neelesh Misra Show, Qisson ka Kona, Time Machine and Kahaani Express to name a few. The nine writers whose works find place in Storywallah are Anulata Raj Nair (four stories), Kanchan Pant, Jamshed Qamar Siddiqui and Manjit Thakur (three stories each), Umesh Pant and Chhavi Nigam (two stories each), and Shabnam Gupta, Ankita Chauhan and Snehvir Gosain with one story each. It must be mentioned that all these writers belong to different age groups, backgrounds and professions.
The stories in the collection probe several themes including love and belonging, companionship and longing, memory and nostalgia, parenthood, community, and death. In the opening story “Wildflower” by Kanchan Pant, Nemat is shocked by her discovery of her dead mother’s extra marital affair, and to put it simply, finds it hard to breathe. She finds her mother’s request to “Please try and understand my relationship with Anirudh” completely baffling and she ends up climbing several “mountains of rage and disgust, of hatred and helplessness”. As she meets and observes Anirudh, the ice begins to melt and for the first time, she reads her mother’s letter “not as her daughter, but as a woman”, and unravels the deeper connection of mind that had sustained her mother. While there is no action per se in the story, the gentle emotional movements bind the several threads of this poignant story.
In Umesh Pant’s “Nails”, Simmi calls off her engagement from what looked like a picture-perfect relationship with Sumit for a seemingly frivolous reason: He chides her to prim her nails. The writer cleverly employs the eminently feminine stereotype of long nails to a surprising effect: Sumit’s strong reaction to her long nails gets Simmi thinking hard about the “correlation between long nails and goodness”, about whether the steering of her relationship was in her own hands, and where was the independent, chirpy and sprightly young Simmi of yesteryear. Jamshed Qamar Siddiqui’s protagonist, a divorced, single mother in “A Divorced Girl”, defies the stereotype of “Divorced women (don’t) say no” to come out of a suffocating alliance to reaffirm her independence and her right to live her own life on her own terms; she realises, “In one second, it felt as if all of society had compressed itself…in Gaurav’s image…. Like society, Gaurav too felt that he was doing me a favour by marrying me, and that in my gratitude I would do whatever he asked of me”.
Manjit Thakur’s “Satrangi” the reader finds the beautiful bride Satrangi’s dreams of a romantic wedding night shattered to pieces, the contrast between her and her husband Chandramohan is skilfully brought out: “There was no comparison. Chandramohan had small eyes, hers were big and kohl-lined. His nose was bulbous, hers was sharp… Chandramohan was uneducated and Satrangi had topped the whole district…She wrote poetry and stories, and everyone had known that she would make something of her life”. The poignancy of the story is enhanced with the discovery of an intense but mellow love blossoming with the ghost of the mansion, young Robert Clive. Satrangi’s growing affection towards Robert is naturally marked by a growing alienation with the world around her. The story depicts contrasting notions of life and death with respect to love.
Of her four stories included in this collection, it is “Amaya” where Anulata Raj Nair’s craft finds a complete expression. Amaya, a young widow of a martyred soldier, decides to live with her in-laws for the rest of her life. Her life is punctuated by loving memories of her husband’s love for her and the brief but happy time they had spent together: “When she was in his arms she felt no pain could touch her. Life was so carefree when he was with her”. She discovers that she is pregnant with a part of Prashant growing within her, and she weaves new dreams for the new life, “She sang sweet lullabies as she prepared for the beautiful days ahead”. But her desire to continue living her life the way he liked her to be is brutally dashed by her conservative in-laws: When she decides to wear a bright orange saree that Prashant had liked, she is reminded of her widowhood, “It was Prashant’s favourite, right? Well he is not sitting here now to appreciate you in it”. When her daughter is subjected to similar shackles of tradition, Amaya’s weakness gives way to a newfound strength and she decides to take her daughter away, “If I keep killing my dreams and wishes, who will keep (my daughter)’s alive? Prashant would never have wanted me to be sad”. The narrative flows beautifully through the different stages of Amaya’s life and moves the reader into a recognition of a young woman’s desires.
All in all, this book does a fascinating job at capturing the distinct flavour of life making its way through small-towns and big cities.
The reviewer teaches English Literature at a Delhi University college.
Writer: Kalyanee Rajan
Source: The Pioneer