Winter Evenings by Navtej Sarna
Rs. 395 PP 152
Navtej Sarna's latest work, a collection of short stories set in Moscow, Geneva, Paris and India, features a motley group that includes strong women, bureaucrats, and somewhat seedy
characters too. A diplomat himself, Sarna is adept at recreating life in foreign cities, the repetitive monotony of a diplomat's life, and the impulses that haunt individuals. In a story that exposes the hollowness beneath the glitter, a bureaucrat forgets his stiff upper lip when he goes to a casino. In other sensitive pieces, a writer's wife comes to terms with her husband's affair, an elderly Sikh lady is revisited by memories of Partition during the anti-Sikh riots of 1984; and an ageing widow finds solace in poetry.
The seamier side makes its appearance in 'Madam Kitty', which is about a woman with a shadowy past who looks after the narrator's mother. Though she is efficient, the narrator turns her out on a weak pretext when someone calls her a "whore and a thief". Elsewhere, a socialite enjoys reading out a TS Eliot poem to a man left with memories of a breakup. Sarna's unadorned prose and straightforward narration stand out. His earlier novel 'We weren't Lovers Like That' recreated the angst of coming to terms with changing mores. Winter Evenings has a wider canvas and variety of characters but is similarly sympathetic about the human condition.
Rachna Joshi, a poet and editor, works at the India International Centre