This compact Penguin Evergreens edition (first published in 2011) contains ten of Khushwant Singh's short stories.Singh's writing style is akin to an entertaining newspaper article, adorned with a layman's vocabulary and easy to comprehend. But as the writer is making fiction here, there is more to it. Cheekiness and biting satire stand out. The straight-faced effect of the words is the author mocking at mindless conventions, traditions and cruelties.
On to the stories now. The Mark of Vishnu is an early Khushwant (1950). It conveys with a fatality, the foolishness of stubborn beliefs. The Mulberry Tree is an insightful story of how a middle-aged man's loneliness and brush with death leads him to disillusion. A Bride for the Sahib is a post-independence tale of an arranged marriage, cultural aloofness and its tragic implications.
The Bottom-pincher is a mischievous tale with its study of high-society perversion and hypocrisy. The Black Jasmine dwells on sexuality and old age. Death comes to Daulat Ram tells of the effect impending death has on us, has a surprising whisk of the supernatural, unusual in a Khushwant Singh story.
The Portrait of a Lady is the most endearing story of the collection. It tells of a grandmother - seen through her grandson's eyes, her stoop and wrinkles get through. The story winds up with an inevitable, poetic demise.The Riot brims in catharsis and violence and brings forth how humans can be more demonic than animals.
Two damning stories make up the book's fag end. The Voice of God tells of a electoral masquerade that could be happening anywhere in rural India. Much of the attention that Zora Singh draws is through its casual narration of how a sycophant becomes a Member of Parliament and is awarded the Bharat Ratna!
All through his writing career, Singh has had the habit of getting carried away while describing anything sexual, a characteristic the late writer attributed to senility, leading to crass, bordering on soft porn novels like The Company of Women (1999). But no such frivolities mark the stories collected here. The tales tell of Khushwant, the journalist and writer with a keen eye and curiousity for life - and the way people go about it. This collection features the writer at his restrained best.
(Article by Snehith Kumbla)