Adultery And Other Stories
I am sure it happens to you. There you are enjoying a mint fresh book and suddenly wham, the memory cells start jangling and you are transported to another time, another book, same literary aftertaste.
Adultery and other stories, Farrukh Dhondy’s latest collection of short stories, is somewhat reminiscent of Laurence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy (TS), especially in its clipped humour, multiple voices, digressions and explorations of the literary form.
TS was/is one head-banging read, and Adultery is not an easy one either. For one, not only does it not try to woo the reader, it actually tries to pre-empt its own audience. But when you manage to get past all that erudite ‘eclectica’ — references to Rachmaninov’s piano concerto, Conrad, Nabokov, Solzhenitsyn, the joys of onomatopoeia — that stuff in there gets under your skin.
‘Adultery is what adults do’, writes Dhondy. And what he does in this book is not restrict the telling to a simplistic tale of pati, patni aur woe. If adultery is like a shadow to an individual, shifty and unshakeable, that socio-moral theme finds its reflection in the literary form. Every story has an overt, regular narrative, and a shadowy adulterous sub-narrative. Some very adult tales, told with childlike ease.
My favourite is ‘Jig Jigolo’, an email exchange between an old Indian gigolo from London and his even older (octogenarian) American client. The story opens with a kind of e-mail most of us come across in our inboxes at some point or the other. A solicitors’ firm from New York with an iffy mail id writes to one Suresh Khanna, hinting of an imminent windfall. Unlike many of us, Khanna falls for the cleverly crafted mail. He replies only to discover that his best bet is someone else’s best bait. What follows is a protracted strip tease, revealing in flashes the enigma of human relations.
If Dhondy stumbles, it is when he is trying to recreate the voice of the subaltern, be it farmer Madhu Devdar’s wife in ‘Short Stem Judas’ or Shyamalam, salesman and book bootlegger in ‘E-Mailwallahs’. Sample this letter from Shyamalam to his Daddyji. “Yesterday as I came out of the local station, just on main road a gentlemans stopping me. He said if I was employ and I say no. Then he tells that he is willing to give a little job. My heart was delighted.” I get a whiff of Nissim Ezekiel. “Remember me?/ I am Professor Seth/ Once I taught you Geography…” Remember?