December 26th, 2009 22:45 EST
Lakshmi Raj Sharma, Marriages are Made in India
If the primary purpose of short stories is to tell stories and that by providing aesthetic pleasure and delight, then Lakshmi Raj Sharma`s Marriages Are Made in India fulfills this basic need. Six out of eight stories have a clear story line and a definite sense of an ending. The two stories that do not have clear endings achieve other ends, though I would have liked Chhotie Ammie, a story that begins powerfully, to have a matching powerful ending.
If one attempts to point out the main features of the stories in this collection, then they can be reduced like this. First, they are dramatically presented; their immediacy and visual presentation are the result of the author`s love for drama. The author does not merely teach British drama at the University of Allahabad, he has also written several plays in English. Secondly, they have the power to grip and so they can be read in single sittings. A friend of mine read through the book (to the end) even during a storm with little light, in the absence of electricity. Thirdly, they have psychological insight: characters and situations are realistic and one is not required to have recourse to a willing suspension of disbelief. Though in all fairness it must be said that he tends to present women better than men. Then, the author has an original style; it is difficult to point out even one clear influence on him. Further, most of the stories are written in different styles, ranging from the farcical to the more seriously comic on the one hand, and from the contemplative to the ironical on the other. Lastly, the twist in the tale that Sharma manages is unique and adds much to the art of narration in general.
Having said that, the weaknesses of the author also need to be pointed out. He sometimes refrains from saying enough. Scenes that could have been more sensual are left to the reader`s imagination. The stories that have sex as subject are interesting but could be made even spicier by one who writes more openly. He sometimes forgets that stories are more neatly chiseled than life. The author does not make too much effort to trim his stories, as Jane Austen or Daphne du Maurier would have done. For him sticking to life and its psychological moments is an obsession. However, Mind Thy Neighbour`s Curry is an exception. Here the story does wind in and out like a Jane Austen story, and Speech is Silver ? is another that is almost a complete story. Sometimes little details that the reader would have liked are missing. One wonders whether the details are deliberately left out or whether they point to some unawareness in the author.
The stories that l like best, though they may not be every reader`s favourites, are The Rape of Ranbaxy and Get Thee to a Nunnery. Both these stories revolve round the lives of Christians and it seems that the author enjoys capturing these lives more than he does anything else. If I had to pinpoint the best character created in this collection, I would definitely think of Rohit Ranbaxy. The plight of this young fellow is fascinating when he is caught between the appetites of two odd people; one the truly hungry lda Evans and the other the gay, Mr. Olney. Zubeda in Chhotie Ammie and Martha in Get Thee to a Nunnery ? are two significant women characters that stand out. Their psychological moments are unsurpassable. The variety and range of the characters in this collection are wide; indeed, the stories seem to be the result of a long life of silent observation and a fascination for holding the mirror up to nature.
A Passage to Sri Lanka is wonderful because it targets the young reader. The tale of two university students going to Sri Lanka for pure fun is amusing. Their adventures with Alice and her wonderland are a refreshing change from the general stuff that is being written today. The author is able to make you laugh better than he can make you cry. Behind the laughter that he knits into the stories, however, there seems to be a serious person for whom nothing is bad enough to be left unobserved. Marriages Are Made in India is a story that takes up the issue of inter-racial feelings and the trauma of the white race in having to share life with the black. Come to the Window is the story of a young Indian girl having to live a few days alone in a place where people have all the time to pry into the life of the single, yet unmarried eligible. To end, this book would certainly make an excellent gift for someone with taste.
LAKSHMI RAJ SHARMA, MARRIAGES ARE MADE IN INDIA
(Calcutta: Writers Workshop, 2001), pp.124, Rs. 180.00
Vivek Kumar Dwivedi