Tranquebar l Rs 250 l pp 264
"Oh come on, it’s just a bunch of short stories”, says one of the many blurbs at the back of Aseem Kaul’s debut collection of short stories. Not really. As far as genre goes, études does decently as a page turner.
A reader might even find it curious how so many lead characters aren’t referred to by their names. But the acuteness of Kaul’s observations and in the cumulation of such nuances, this book will find its reader. So a story called A Love Story is really a love story, leaving you with a wonderful fairytale sense of it-could-happen-to-you.
Thankfully, Kaul, who lives in Philadelphia pursuing a PhD at Wharton, doesn’t pander too much to a Western audience. I would go so far as to say that he’s blessed in not having to feel the pressure of translating the vernacular into acceptable angrezi. And so phalwalla remains that — not ‘'fruit vendor. Good ol’ thella (cart), similarly, is allowed to stay thella, just italicised.
Kaul has the knack of making you curious about his characters — the woman at the ATM, the guy who obsesses over underwear at a Laundromat, and the housewife who to remind herself of an estranged husband, smokes for the first time in her kitchen. Sample this: “The second cigarette proved easier than the first. It still tasted terrible of course, and the choking sensation returned and she couldn’t keep from coughing. But there was something familiar about the flavour now, like the argument she had already had, and the fact that the vileness of it was no longer unexpected meant that she could recover more quickly.”
Doesn’t all this ring a bell? In this book, the mundane is actually a synonym for the familiar: the guy who googles his name could really be your husband.
E'tudes is light reading and in places, poignant. The words flow, and you go along. Think of this Tranquebar publication as a compilation of your favourite blog entries, only better edited. There’s also a key at the back of the book on how to really read the pieces — stories, that is.
Kaul, I would like to believe, likes the piano. And from there stems his need for structure, a central theme and mood for his stories. Like piano pieces. Or, études.