Stories that Touch a Hidden Chord
Shri Manoj Das, recipient of the prestigious Saraswati Samman and recently the Padma Shri, is an extremely skilled exponent of short story genre, weaving the yarns with a quaint charm and magic. Each story touches a hidden chord with subtle wit, gentle humour and powerful emotion. Living in Pondicherry since more than 30 years, this Aurobindonian scholar is equally proficient in English as also his mother tongue Oriya. In his 349-page anthology of short stories entitled Selected Fiction he employs a style of storytelling in which the language is dipped in all the nine rasas of life. The 21 short stories including a novella have characters which we encounter in our day-to-day life. It brings to us the atmosphere of times gone by—the nostalgia for childhood long past, the reality of politics, the strangeness of ghosts, the off-repeated theme of unrequited love and what have you. In short, it is an amalgam of stark reality, dreamy fantasy and eerie mystery.
The anthology has a mix of all kinds of emotions: in The Misty Hour1, freedom fighter Aunty Roopwati has a quiet admirer who after performing her last rites on her death renounces the world; in The Naked', a humorous tale, a housekeeper is worried about how to entertain a group of nude guests; in 'The Crocodile's Lady', Dr Batstone tries to discover the myths and fantasy of India; in The Owl', superstitions and beliefs of villagers are highlighted; in "The General', a commander who has fought many battles, collapses to death on the stage out of stage-fright; in 'Miss Moberly's Target' loneliness and desperation of an Anglo-Indian woman in her old age come to the fore.
This anthology carries stories with diversified human characters and emotions—the stories are faithfully Indian in content and character and can be noted for freshness of ideas, clarity of perception, originality in use of words, and sensitivity in visual projection. None can deny that Manoj Das is a storyteller par excellence. Incidentally National Book Trust too has published four of his books for children—A Bride Inside the Casket and Other Tales, Stories of Light and Delight, A Trip to Heaven and Other Stories, Books Forever—and two others, one for neo-literates entitled Aurobindo and the other for adult readers entitled Manoj Das ki Kahaniyan.