A Train to Kolkata and Other Stories

Book Review by Hema Ravi

Title: A Train to Kolkata and Other Stories

Author: Mrutyunjay Sarangi

Dr. Mrutyunjay Sarangi, a former judge and recipient of the Fakir Mohan Senapati Award for Short Stories from the Utkal Sahitya Samaj in 2018, edits the Literary Vibes, an online literary journal hosted by him. A bilingual writer with number of Odiya stories under his belt, A Train to Kolkata And Other Stories is his second book of short stories. In his ‘Preface’, Dr Sarangi tells us from where the stories are drawn:[T]hanks to my professional assignments, I have come in close contact with people from varied walks and experienced the joys, the wonders of life through a fulfilling journey. Some of these experiences have spilled into the characters and situations I have created in my stories.”

The fifteen stories that make this collection have the right mix of humour, suspense, love, sarcasm, imagery, vocabulary and more. A blurb by a pre-launch reviewer has very justifiably contended that the stories are “measured, controlled, balanced, jolly or courageous, sad or tear-jerking, from the start his stories hide a surprising climax”.

The climax in ‘Nepali Baba’ is both dramatic and unbelievable.  The author’s thought resonates with a rational mind: “Somehow, I am always uncomfortable with the idea of Babas.  I neither believe nor disbelieve them.”  ‘A Small Lie’ is the poignant tale of two passionate hearts, whose world is smashed to smithereens in the baatyaa[1].  It goes on to narrate the struggles of the female protagonist who lives with the memory of the “night of intense passion and immense tragedy”. Stormy nights evoke pictures of menacing, disruptive clouds, dark lanes bring along ghastly images of skimpily clad women, men chewing paan, smoking and indulging in garrulous conversations.  In ‘The Dark Lane’, the author has deftly portrayed varied images: “long tunnel of horror, infested with anti-social elements, school dropouts and vagabonds”.  The reader heaves a sigh of relief “when at the end of lane, there was light, the crowded street welcomed them likes its long-lost friends” — a nail-biting finish to the narrative!

‘Ananyaa’ is the story of a shy girl from a middle-class family who gets trapped into marriage with a tall, handsome man who proves to be immoral, and unscrupulous, all because she did not have the courage to reveal her special love, fearing the family members would misunderstand her as a “girl of loose morals”.  How many hapless Ananyaas still live in such prisons, I wonder.  Each little act of kindness goes a long way, at times, and comes full circle is the quintessential truth which the reader gathers in ‘A Touch of Love’. At times, truth can be stranger than fiction.

‘Subashini Didi’ is definite to leave the emotional reader teary-eyed.  The vicissitude of human behaviour is revealed when certain unseen truths or “analysis of fatal errors”occur. “I am sure one day you will realise what it is and see your subject in a new light,”the author proffers a cryptic message to people who are judgmental and prejudiced without investigating what the eye sees and what the ear hears!  The story of ‘Khusi’, an abandoned baby reunited with her biological mother after several incidents, is like one out of Bollywood.  Often romantic comedies are fun filled, they do not illustrate “real life”.  Some films, however, can resonate and inspire, and I believe this story was born after watching one such portrayal.

The title story ‘A Train to Kolkata’ — a tale that many of us can relate to, has a melancholic start. The somber mood and “heavy heart”of the protagonist Anjali is pitted against the “damp weather”. Dr. Sarangi has dextrously depicted human behaviour, familial love, bonding between an invalid husband and devoted wife; more importantly, has described how a callous and insensitive friend can be a pesky intruder, inflict deep wounds and shatter another’s peace.  The story ends with lines that are both awe-inspiring and hard- hitting: “She looked up at heaven, at the infinitely merciful Supreme Power who was beyond all joys and all sorrows…”

The central theme running through the assortment of stories is ‘love’ in its varied hues. After all, love is a way of life, and the most important facet of human life – its mention brings along a feeling of warmth and security; yes, it also brings a lot of pain.  While discussing the relationship dynamics, psychologist Frank Conner talks about the “essence of why we seek love in all relationships”.  Using Sternberg’s Triangular Theory of Love, Conner reveals the “elements of this triangle are passion, intimacy, and commitment”. Interestingly, Dr. Sarangi has touched upon these facets in his stories.  His protagonists are strong individuals with a never say die attitude; this includes the fragile Sushant in ‘The Procession’, who walks back with renewed vigour to his “home in a solemn procession, awaiting a starry night looming over the horizon.”

In the ‘Looney of the Town’,the author narrates the conversation between two generations with great élan and sharp twinge – the pre-Boomers, with the earlier twentieth century freedom fighters and the Generation Z, who have little knowledge about the patriots of the freedom struggle, their contributions and sacrifices. “Things had changed rapidly in free India, as if freedom was a license to perpetrate all kinds of irregularities. Promotions, transfers in jobs were bought by paying bribes red tape killed initiative for academic excellence and students were more interested in passing exams than acquiring knowledge…” Any reader can surmise that only one who has experienced these can vehemently come up with such potent expressions. 

Setting aside his scholarly prowess, Dr. Sarangi has penned his stories in a language that is lucid and flowing. The choice of words, the vivid descriptions, and the realistic portrayals are sure to rouse creative minds. The stories in this collection will attract a multitude of readers as the protagonists and allied characters bear semblance to people whom one may have come across somewhere, at some point of time in their lives.

[1] Gale or storm in Somali

Hema Ravi is a part-time IELTS and Communicative English Trainer, writer by passion. independent researcher, and resource person for language development courses.  She is a recognised poet, author, reviewer, editor (Efflorescence), secretary and event organiser of CPC (Chennai Poets’ Circle)  and CAB (Connecting Across Borders)



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