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)




Whispers of Stones

When the mountains and grass
had life, stones whispered
how the world came to be…

'Stonehenge', Daily Star

And as the world came to be, there was war — war that seems to rage in some part of the world or other. The British Museum has an exhibit which states the first battle was staged 13,000 years ago… in what is now Sudan, long before the advent of written history. This was even before the advent of people who built the ancient Stonehenge which was constructed around 3000-2000 BCE. And battles still continue to rage. The Jebel Sahaba casualties in Sudan 13000 years ago were less than 100. But the current conflicts claim in terms of tens of thousands which prolonged could stretch to millions. The last world war (1939-1945) which lasted for six years had a total of  75-80 million persons who perished. Ukraine-Russia conflict has within five months had a casualty count of more than 14000. And yet weapons and nuclear arms continue to proliferate decimating humanity, nature and towns, destroying homes, erasing ruthlessly and creating more refugees. The only need for such battles seem to be to satiate the hunger of the warlords secure in their impenetrable fortresses while tens of thousands are annihilated and natural or nurtured landscapes lie emaciated, mutilated and polluted.

What would be a good way of ending such wars?

Tagore sought the development of better instincts in humankind as an antidote. He wrote in the last century: “Any teaching concerning man must have human nature for its chief element. How far it will harmonise with human nature is a matter of time.”

With wars getting deadlier and more horrific, we can only try to awaken, as Tagore suggests, the better nature in man to move towards a peaceful world. What would be a more effective way of doing it than writing with the hope of a kinder and accepting future?

For that let us start with translations of the maestro Tagore himself. We have a song about the season — monsoon, ‘Monomor Megher Songi (My Friends, the Clouds)’, translated by Professor Fakrul Alam, a painting by Sohana Manzoor interpreting the lyrics and a transcreation of Nababarsha or New Rains’ was shrunken into a popular Rabindra Sangeet and reduced to twenty lines in English by Tagore himself. The connect with nature is an important aspect that enables humans to transcend petty concerns leading to dissensions of different kinds as evidenced in the maestro’s humorous feline skit, translated by Somdatta Mandal. A translation of Dalip Kaur Tiwana’s ‘The Bus Conductor’ from Punjabi by C. Christine Fair adds zest to this section. Fazal Baloch has translated a folktale from Balochistan involving the supernatural and Ihlwha Choi has taken on the cry for peace on behalf of Ukraine while translating his own poem in Korean. The Nithari column has a story by Jishan in Hindustani, translated to English by Grace M Sukanya, showcasing the struggle of a youngster during the pandemic – rather a sad narrative, which though fictitious has its roots in reality. 

Our poetry section touches upon the timelessness of dissensions and darkness with Michael R Burch’s poem on Stonehenge and Supatra Sen’s poem on Ukraine. This has been allayed by love poetry by Maid Corbic from Bosnia. George Freek’s poem ruffles with its reflective lines. And in the midst of it all, is poetry by Ryan Quinn Flanagan reflecting on the seven stages of man. Will the process of aging or human nature ever change? I wonder if Rhys Hughes can find an answer for that in humorous verses as he has shared in this issue. In his column, Hughes has written about an imagined anthology of short stories.

Our short story section has echoes of humour around felines by Manzoor, somewhat in tune with the mind frame seen in Tagore’s skit on this issue. Humour rings tinged with an apparition in Erwin Coombs’s narrative – should one call it dark humour or is it just his style? Paul Mirabile goes for gothic darkness in his meanderings around Italy.

Strangely, we seem to have a focus on short stories this time. Keith Lyons has interviewed Steve Carr, a journalist, a publisher and writer of 500 short stories who is questing to create a ‘perfect short story’. Reading out excerpts from her short story at a literary festival in Simla, Bollywood celebrity, Deepti Naval, was in conversation with eminent film journalist, Ratnottama Sengupta. She spoke of her literary aspirations while unveiling her autobiography in verse, A Country Called Childhood. This conversation has been shared by Sengupta with Borderless. It is interesting to see how Naval’s reactions to social malaise contrasts with that of the film director, cinematographer and actor, Goutam Ghose, who was present during the unveiling of her book. He had responded to communal violence by making a film on Lalan Fakir extolling virtues of love and kindness, called Moner Manush (2010) and then made a book on the film called, The Quest (2013) which has beautiful translations of Lalan Fakir’s lyrics by Sankar Sen.  

Our non-fiction sections seem to be hosting multiple travel stories across UK by Mike Smith, along the Australian coastline by Meredith Stephens, on the Himalayas with Ravi Shankar and an unusual visit by Hema Ravi to a farm in US where animals that had been used in Disney films in the past are homed. Our environmental columnist, Kenny Peavy, actually wrote about his cycling trip from Thailand to Indonesia on a bamboo cycle made by a Singaporean! And from Japan, Suzanne Kamata explored a museum in the neighbouring town of Mure. The museum on a hill hosts the art of American Japanese Artists, Isamu Noguchi.

We do have non-fiction that moves away from travel: noir humour by Devraj Singh Kalsi and an essay by Candice Louisa Daquin on a very interesting subject – ‘Is it Okay to be Ordinary?’ Is it?  Dan Meloche has written a literary essay on Canadian novelist Andre Alexis’s award-winning novel, Fifteen Dogs: An Apologue (2015). While Meloche spoke of how the novel departed from Orwell’s Animal Farm, his narrative brought to my mind a novel closer to our times set in England by Jasper Fforde called Constant Rabbit (2020) – this a science fiction while Alexis’s was an apologue or an animal fable. Fforde did use the rabbits rather well to highlight the current times.

We have book excerpts of two recent books that I would call really outstanding. One of them is Aruna Chakravarti’s The Mendicant Prince, which is being released this week, and is based on the evergreen contentious case of the prince of Bhawal that has even been explored even in cinema. The other, Dadamoni: The Life and Times of Ashok Kumar by Nabendu Ghosh, has been published posthumously and is not a translation from Bengali but written in English originally by this trilingual writer.  

Called ‘Dadamoni’ affectionately, iconic actor Ashok Kumar is regarded as “the one personality who symbolises Indian cinema’s journey from Bombay Talkies to Bollywood”.  This book has been reviewed by Indrashish Banerjee, who calls it ‘a reflection on the Hindi film industry’ as well as a biography. Rakhi Dalal has reviewed Booker winner Geetanjali Shree’s Mai, Silently Mother, a Sahitya Akademi winning translation of her Hindi novel by Nita Kumar, reiterating the dialogue that had been kindled on motherhood last month by Rinki Roy Bhattacharya and Maithili Rao’s The Oldest Love Story (2022). Bhaskar Parichha has reviewed Prosanta Chakrabarty’s Explaining Life Through Evolution plotting how life evolved on earth. Parichha tells us: “Meaningful, wide-ranging and argumentative, this is a must-read book. It will propel us to imagine and reimagine life around us.” Another book that sounds like a must-read has been reviewed by Meenakshi Malhotra, Tagore’s Gleanings of the Road, translated by Mandal. She tells us: “ ‘Gleanings’ represents the quintessential Tagore…Ably introduced and translated by Somdatta Mandal, a renowned Tagore scholar, the translation captures the iridescent and luminous quality of Tagore’s prose and its chiaroscuro effects.”

There is more to tempt. Please stop by on our contents page and take a look.

We would like to hugely thank all our contributors and readers for being with us and helping us grow. I would like to thank my team, who despite hurdles they face, always lend a helping hand and wonderful words from their pens or computers to get Borderless on its feet. I apologise for the delay and thank you all for your patience. Special thanks to Sohana Manzoor for her fabulous artwork.

I wish you all a wonderful July and peace in a war-torn world. We are all affected by the ongoing conflicts. Let us hope for peaceful and just resolutions.


Mitali Chakravarty


Lingering Sounds and Scents…

By Hema Ravi

Grandma’s house resonates with distinct sounds and scents

of agarbathis* and aromatic spice(s)

In gleaming tins and porcelain jars the contents

were stored, hand-pounded by grandma, all in a trice.

The ‘clang’ on the brass filter ere decoction fresh

added to creamy milk with aroma pleasant

for heavenly ‘kaapi*’ to start each day afresh

Tumblers filled and emptied, brought smiles effervescent.


While grandma meditated with large pots and pans

Grandpa pored over religious texts for long hours

Our play would halt when we had to wash feet and hands

In prayer we stood; to deities, offered flowers.

In that easy chair sat Grandpa under the large neem

post the sumptuous dinner, it was story-time.

As the full moon in the sky continued to beam

We sat all eyes and ears, until it was bedtime.


Guavas and mangoes have gone; neem tree’s survived

Continues to invite the parakeets and crows

ammi and aattukkal* shelved when the mixer arrived

What happened to the assortment of pans, God knows!

The memories lie frozen in pictures of the past.

Now trendy, the large mansion does have its appeal

Technology had cast its spell on all too fast.

Progeny elated — they have got a square deal!


*Agarbathis: joss sticks used in prayer.

*Ammi, aattukkal: grinding stone

*kaapi: Cofee


Hema Ravi is a poet, author, reviewer, editor (Efflorescence), resource person and independent researcher. Her writings have been featured in several online and international print journals, notable among them being the Metverse Muse, Amaravati Poetic Prism, International Writers Journal (USA), Culture and Quest (ISISAR).  She is a freelancer for IELTS and Communicative English.