To Each With Love comprises six stories of varying lengths. Each probes the mind of someone ensnared in the routine of life but always daydreaming of something better. Excerpts of its flustered characters’ existence, these stories flutter and then implode in the mind of the protagonist, revealing the chaos of a seemingly prosaic life.
There’s surly Lalla, a grotesque caricature of a teacher who transmutes pangs of jealousy into sadistic punishments for her students. Then there’s the eccentric Andrea, the quintessential modern housewife unnerved by the never-ending pile of duties, her life reduced to dealing with her colourful lot of domestic workers. There’s also the single male protagonist in this collection -- Chander, the ineffectual villager shunned by family but unequivocally trusted by his master in the city.
Most of Renee Ranchan’s stories are strung together under the arch of the Indian way of life. Everyone is in limbo, hung somewhere between their work and the elliptical meaninglessness of routine, yearning for an occasional breather. Their lives perhaps tell of a larger psychological void troubling a nation, whose identity too is muddled between the capitalist push for blind growth and the old socialist yearning for true development. The stories remind us that despite talks of bullish growth and the West’s influence, not much has changed, especially when it comes to the dismantling of oppressive traditions. Poverty still forces people to offer themselves up as cheap labour, women are still enslaved in their homes, there is little security for the elderly, and the education system continues to be in dire need of a makeover.
Patriarchy is at the core of To Each With Love. It simmers in most stories but comes alive in For Your Loins, Sir – when beauty turns to a beast. Vimla, the dutiful wife, transitions into her controlling mother-in-law, and like Atlas, upholds the structure that had threatened and stomped all over her. It is in Vimla’s transformation that the wide girth of patriarchy is visible as the evil which turns the oppressed into the oppressor.
Yet, this collection’s most distinct story is one shot through with comic relief, not dark humour. The Fiefdom engages you in a play between a domestic helper and an exhausted mother and wife and reveals the Indian middle class’ total dependence on house help. Patriarchy is at the root of this too.
In places, To Each With Love is needlessly verbose with sentences that often defy simplicity. In sum, though these ‘long-short’ stories, that are proffered as powerful satire, present a spectrum of characters unique to Indian society, they verge on the inconsequential and require you to be a patient reader.