As a child, I remember detesting any form of gourd except of course if my grandmother transformed it into a delicious and warm halwa (sweet pudding). Now, I am more open to experimenting with food and since I live away from India, seeing this vegetable in my local supermarket makes me rather nostalgic. So when I came across a book with this vegetable named in its title, my curiosity was piqued. What was so interesting about this plain looking (and tasting) vegetable?
‘The Gourd Seller & Other Stories’ is a collection of 8 short stories by Abha Iyengar. This is the first time I have read her work and I must say I am suitably impressed. I finished the book in one sitting as I found her style of writing to be very engaging. The stories narrate the desires, struggles and hopes of people living in urban India and it would be fair to say that most stories in this book are set against the backdrop of North India. Iyengar manages to recreate scenes that are not difficult to imagine because her words facilitate this process for the reader quite effortlessly.
The 8 stories in order of appearance in the book are:
- The Gourd Seller
- The High Stool
- Market Territories
- A Family of Beauties
- Jagged Edges
- A Matter of Time
- Drought Country
- Haircut Sunday
The themes that are addressed in these stories reminded me of ‘modern day demons’ that people have to sometimes fight and at other times endure. It would be important to point out that each story left me wanting more. I say this not because of the lack of characterisation but because I felt like I wanted to ‘live with’ the characters for a little while longer; to empathise with their daily lives be it their experience(s) of joy and/or pain. The credit here goes entirely to Iyengar as I ended up liking the stories so much that I wanted to find out more! Well, I think that is the beauty of short stories and the author certainly manages to hit the right spot.
The plots are cleverly crafted and often take advantage of the reader’s tendency to fall prey to cognitive misery. This is well demonstrated in one particular story but I will leave you to guess which one once you have read the book. The conclusions of the stories are diverse in that some are well explained whilst others are open to interpretation by the reader. I won’t categorise the stories for you as that will hold me guilty of spoiling all the fun.
On a concluding note, this book definitely needs to be promoted far and wide so that the world is made aware that we have other Indian writers apart from Jhumpa Lahiri who have mastered the art of short story telling!