Book review by Rakhi Dalal
Title: A Sense of Time
Author: Anuradha Kumar
Publishers: Weavers Press, 2021
A Sense of Time is a collection of short stories by Anuradha Kumar that stretch across different periods of time, hurtling through the past into the future. A two-time Commonwealth award winner, Kumar has authored thirty-one books, written for Economic and Political Weekly among many other journals and newspapers, woven stories for children under a pseudonym and has released two books almost together in 2021, the other being The Hottest Summer in Years amidst excellent reviews.
Reading Kumar’s A Sense of Time is akin to going on an unplanned journey which takes you to places most unexpected, the roads twisting and turning as you march on with bated breath, wondering where or what it might lead you to. You have to remain alert at all times lest you might miss something crucial to a story. The narrative style in each story is crisp, never faltering once. And the most striking thing is Kumar’s ability to conjure vivid imagery in the mind of the reader. The spaces that her pen creates might either be real or illusive, the enticement is decidedly palpable.
The story, ‘Entomologist at Trial’, is a about a small town lawyer trying to make it big at High Court. He fails each time he bases his decisions on idealism. It is essentially a satire on the society which derides integrity and where being successful is far more important than being right. ‘Pandemic 2121’ is a love story based in an imagined future where the protagonist is separated from her lover, from a different planet, because of the policies of her planet’s government. Here the author addresses the innate human longing for things simpler and basic to human nature for sustenance amidst a pandemic like situation similar to that witnessed in 2020.
In some stories, Kumar explores the world of women from distinct backgrounds. Rekha from ‘Rekha Crosses the Line’ is a bored middle class housewife looking for ways to distract herself from her mundane existence and from the anxieties forced upon her by the familial expectations. It also explores the murky world of Godmans thriving in a society where people flock in the hope to find answers or to while away their time deliberately, knowing exactly what they are entering. ‘All the Way to the Twelfth Floor’ follows the events of a day in the life of Gauri who works as a house help for different apartments in a society. Kumar focuses upon the perilous circumstances women engage in this work sometimes confront, their apprehensions and the acts they feel obliged to do to for the sake of their livelihoods. It is also a peek into the apathy with which the society treats women working as domestic helps and employers’ lack of concern to the vulnerabilities they might be exposed to.
‘Dorothy Cries in the Bus‘ is the story of a journey taken by two women of different nationalities brought together by circumstances and their effort to connect with each other. It essentially focuses on their similarities as women dealing with their marriages and discovering a kinship in unusual circumstances. ‘Missing’ takes us to the world of a woman married to an army soldier and her efforts to keep the household functioning in the absence of her husband who rarely gets a leave from his posting. The story, however, also turns our attention to the meagre salaries the army soldiers earn and the psychological stress they endure which is seldom focused upon. The heroic welcome that Gudiya’s husband receives in the village upon his return on a vacation stands in stark contrast to the reality of his everyday life marred by difficulties to procure even nutritious food for his ailing father.
Some stories are also biting satires on the ways a society acquires and becomes accustomed to. ‘The Man Who Played Gandhi’ is a story of a man who gets invited to play Mahatma at various events. Das takes great pain to look like Gandhi, wear similar clothes, practice the same kind of gait and the way of spinning the charkha. He also memorizes Bapu’s speeches which he delivers to sometimes a rapt audience. As the years after independence progress, he realises people don’t really care about the Mahatma or his ways anymore. At one event, he is invited to appear only to be made to disappear again — as a magician’s prop. Through the course of this narrative, Kumar highlights the growing indifference of the citizens towards the ideals or edifice upon which India was constructed after a long struggle faced by the independence movement.
‘Big Fish’ takes us to the world of a refugee family living on the brim of society, its fears and vulnerabilities. It also showcases the apathy of a government towards such people whose sole existence could hang on the whims of officers given charge to identify them.
The titular story, ‘A Sense of Time’, has elements of supernatural where time gives the impression, of drifting and sometimes advancing, but traps the reader into a delusion with such alacrity so as to leave her mystified by the experience. The disorientation which Kumar manages to entice a reader into is at once intriguing and spell-binding.
Kumar’s writing clearly comes out as bold, experimental and confident. The pace with which she commences a story never loses its hold on the reader. Though there are a couple of stories where the ending may leave a reader wondering or wanting for a closure but author’s choice to keep them open ended emulates life as sometimes experienced in reality. Instances where you may come across people only passingly and may never come to know everything about them. But then this is how life is. This is the beauty of it, our ability to keep some experiences in memories and identify our own existence as transient, only fleeting for those we unexpectedly meet on our journey.
Rakhi Dalal is an educator by profession. When not working, she can usually be found reading books or writing about reading them. She writes at https://rakhidalal.blogspot.com/ .
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