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One Point Two Billion - Mahesh Rao

Red, Yellow and Black. The colours used on the book cover of ‘One Point Two Billion’ instantly reminded me of the small ‘kirana’ shop that I used to frequent along with my mum to stock up on daily home essentials. I vividly remember seeing these colours in combination with each other on labels of match boxes, oil and even pesticides. In One Point Two Billion, Mahesh Rao has authored a memorable collection of short stories which encapsulates a fleeting impression of India and its people. I say fleeting because although Rao has done a brilliant job, the fact that that India is so very diverse may make it almost impossible to convey this in just one book.

The stories are set across the Indian diaspora to include a distinct geographical representation of the Indian states which I found to be unique as the stories give the reader a glimpse into the lives of India’s ‘everyday’ people or as they are more popularly known, the common man.

Rao’s writing is compelling and he uses metaphors and analogies with great aplomb – “They are newly weds, diamonds the size of grapes, so much make up they can hardly blink, so much botox they can hardly crap”.  This sentence also belongs to my favourite story of the collection ‘The Pool’ which has a haunting protagonist. The character building in all stories is carried out with finesse and you can’t help but feel that you want to know them more than has been revealed within the constraints of a short story.

I always like enlisting the various short story titles as I tend to read them in the order that they appear in the book. However this time, I read the stories based on how appealing I found their titles to be and would like to share a few with you – ‘Fizz Pop Aah’, ‘The Agony of Leaves’, ‘Golden Ladder’ and ‘Eternal Bliss’. The remaining stories, I won’t reveal, but will say that there are 13 in total. 13 very engrossing tales. In terms of the stories themselves, the flavour of each is different. Some are fast paced with exciting twists whilst others are languorous and haunting.

Finally, I would wholeheartedly recommend this book for two main reasons:

1.       It effectively demonstrates how it is next to impossible to have ‘one description’ of India.

2.       It gives a fair glimpse into the lives of Indians abode in the motherland


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