Wednesday, 15 May 2013

Short Story Reads: An Indian Dream by MJ Akbar

An Indian Dream by Indian journalist and writer, MJ Akbar is one of the stories featured in Khushwant Singh's compilation of Best Indian Short Stories: Volume I. It is a loud echo of India's times and society sometime between the 1980s and the 1990s (making a guess, as I'm not sure when the writer wrote it). It is a lucid depiction of India's youth at a time when bureaucracy, connections, financial status and nepotism ruled the roost, although today is no different.

It is the story of Ashfaq Hussain, a young man from the lower echelons of society. Akbar's description of what a youngster from such a background at the start of the story grips the attention of the reader:

'You will find him in a cheap cafe, with or without a cup of tea in front of him, seated facing a mirror in which he can occasionally steal a glance at his handsome self as he lights his cigarette. He has wavy hair. Before leaving the restaurant he will make sure that the waves are in place'. Further the repressive atmosphere of society has been aptly described: 'Often during conversation he will screw up his eyes thoughtfully, particularly if he suspects someone is looking. His tragedy is that he rarely finds a girl watching him. Indian girls never  make eyes at anyone, except at the marriages of their elder sisters'. This indeed sets the pace of the story.

To cut a long story short, this story is a mark of unrealized dreams, chaos, angst, hard-hit reality, love and absolute ignominy. Further one notes the relevance of English in educational and other institutions is a game changer to the ones who have access to it while the underdog from the world of the vernacular can only dream on.

What I liked about the story is about its hard-hitting truth and the punchlines. Although one might sense an underline of strong cynical humor, it is still a gripping story that is a must-read to comprehend a twisted and hypocritical society that has options for only a chosen few.

(Article by Kabita Sonowal)

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