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Saturday, 28 January 2017

Mock Stalk and Quarrel: A review

The book, published by Readomania is a remarkable collection of voices. The analogies, the imagery and the symbolism blend to powerfully state opinions. The book also serves to shake the readers out of their complacence and think about how they can make the world a better place.

When you dive into the pool of irony lock stock and barrel, what you come up with is, yes, you guessed right---Mock Stalk and Quarrel! From the quirky title, to each of the twenty-nine stories in the book, the single thread that binds it all together is its power of making the reader think. The thinking is also on two levels. One, the stories are satires, with oblique references to the topic the author is writing about. So the reader is immediately drawn into figuring out the subject, as well as what the characters stand for. Two, when the subject is understood, the reader ponders over the situation that the story conveys.
This anthology has shown that political and social commentary need not be declaimed from an ivory tower. Instead, the funnier and quirkier the story, the more is the impact!

“The Little Princess” by Deepti Menon is a parable with unique metaphors. The rose tinted glasses come off pretty soon as the princess with a mind of her own observes the goings-on around her. The not-so-oblique images of the present day situation are amusing. There is also a matter-of-fact reference to domestic violence. The ending is apt, in keeping with the vein of the story.

“The Root” is an allegory by Ranjan Kaul. Two major communities clash: a clampdown on free speech ensues. With clever use of words, the author holds the reader’s attention. Some sacred cows are held up for inspection and these are the points to ponder. Does the muzzling of free speech lead to writer’s block? Is Swaraj, that is freedom, a myth? Can one function properly only after sinking one’s teeth into the forbidden fruit (or rather, root?)

“Girl Talk” by Kirthi Jayakumar rests on the very original idea of a Whatsapp group of the three supreme feminine deities, with very apt monikers! Being added to and leaving the group is a depiction of how Parvati, when overwhelmed, transforms into Kali and back again after getting the rant out of her system. Amidst all the slang, the author makes a very pertinent comment on the Holy Trinity not being able to create-sustain-destroy, without their counterparts’ powers. Very Speaking Tree, I must say! The fact of Saras not being too savvy with abbreviations and hash tags, is ironical in itself. Generously sprinkled with puns, the story is an amusing read, yet with a message.

Radhika Maira Tabrez’s story, “Darkness reigns at the foot of the lighthouse” is heartrending. The author has caught the pulse of a socialite’s day very well. The title itself is an indicator of the sting in the tail to come. Following the travails of the protagonist, the reader is brought up short with a shocking revelation.

“The Udalpool” by Tanushree Ghosh Dhall portrays the lives entwined with a flyover set up for collapse. The style of writing is such that the reader knows it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes. The oblique reference to “Madam” compels the reader to think.

“The Red Card” considers the subtle menace of domestic and mental abuse. The story moves forward alongside a football match: an unusual analogy. It is heartening that instead of just depicting the gloomy situation, Lakshana Palat has given the heroine some spunk. The message is loud and clear: violence cannot be tolerated.

In “Hero” by Esha Chakraborty, the protagonist’s futile attempts to get into the papers are comical. The irony of how he finally achieves his ambition is not lost upon the reader. One is forced to think about priorities in the face of obstacles.

Having a maid work for one, comes with its own travails. “Fifty shades of maids” by Akhill Pratap  puts down on paper everything that everybody cribs about, in a most comical way. Women working outside their home are especially at the mercy of this tribe. The maids are well aware of their indispensability, and milk it for all they are worth!

If you like your humour a little gross, then “God gifted” is for you. Anirban Nanda has done a fine job of portraying the small-mindedness of a set of people set in a time-and –space warp. Bolstered by bombastic utterances, they are literally a law unto themselves. The translation of their names into English lends farcicality to their entities.

“Holy Trinity” by Aashisha Chakraborty deals with the insatiable need today, to display picture-perfect lives on social media, at any cost. The author captures the drawing-room hypocrisy succinctly. Readers are sure to pause a little before they next indulge in a round of social-media bingeing!

Paulomi DuttaGupta takes us through the turmoil and the turbulence of the struggle between the haves and the have-nots, in “The revenge of the Darbaris”. Using the rollback of the Privy Purse, the author deftly illustrates the complacence of the privileged class. The reader is also reminded of the power historians can wield. The story shows us a glimpse of perhaps a world of the future, where the word “intolerance” is unknown. Yet, vestiges of familiarity with this word do remain! We would do well to aspire to such a world.

“Transferable Gods” by Dr. Kuheli Bhattacharya boldly takes on the prickly subject of conversions and reconversions. The author uses unique analogies like bank accounts to put forward the argument for conversion. The satire stems from the fact that for some, it is a drawing room topic, to be hotly debated, but for others, it is their whole life.

The way that “The Dress Code” has been written, it seems quite plausible! This allegory by Amrita Mukherjee totally adheres to the anthem “desperate times need desperate measures”.

“Double contamination” by Vibha Sharma revives the age-old mystique of blood. The usual spats between neighbours, centred upon mundane issues like water and smells, are actually a manifestation of a deeper chasm based on the concept of pure-impure, ours-theirs.

 In “The Whistle Blower”, Dr. Santosh Bakaya chooses to set the tale of the Pied Piper of Hamelin in the modern context. Even though the word has a different connotation, it still is relevant because the pied piper is a metaphor for someone who lays bare the fact that everyone is, in fact, part of a huge rat race.

“Groom Reservation for Dark-skinned girls” is a play, which the reader can visualise easily. The scientific jargon is believable, albeit with a sly dig at the internet as the new fount of wisdom, verified or otherwise! Lata Sony has chosen an aspect of discrimination, which borders on racism, and has dealt with it in such a matter of fact way, that the reader almost says, “Well, why not?”

“Yet to Win” by Aparajita Dutta invokes an unsettled feeling because of the neglect of women’s sports and in fact, all other sports barring the hallowed one of cricket. The angst comes pouring down with the rain and yet there is a ray of hope. The story hints at the message that change has to be brought about by first having the courage to change ourselves and then stand for what we believe in.

Anupama Jain, the weaver of punny tales does it again! With the nonchalant broom of her unique logic, Mrs XXL sweeps away all protests from the mild AllJazz, in the story, “AllJazz and Nation Building”. Everything is grist to her mill, be it public hygiene, women’s rights, superstitions and rituals, or farmers’ suicides. In all the light-hearted banter, there is a hint of middle-class discomfort too---when they face contempt from both the upper and lower classes! In spite of Mrs. XXL’s cavalier attitude towards anything remotely civic or considerate, she is actually endearing! The author puts alliterations to good use. The narration hardly gives the reader time to catch the breath! The message at the end of the story lends a sober note.

“A serious confession”: High on sarcasm, the author turns his lens towards the many issues that prickle our conscience today. Sensitivity to caste names is at one end of the spectrum, while the discontent voiced by NRI’s is at the other. Aryan Huria examines blind patriotism in some people and fake feminism in others. The manic media is dealt with, and so are the so-called godmen. The protagonist has a roving eye of a different kind---it touches upon so many ills of the present day. Yet the tone is sunny and lighthearted.

“A miracle in Mewar” by Nitin Chandola puts the spotlight on the Juggernaut that is the government. With clever similes like the garlic-vampire one, the story moves forward. The powers-that-be seem to be like the mills of God, which grind slowly but then, the mills grind exceeding small, and the government apparently does not! Still, the feisty Laajo does manage to save the day!

“The Ultimate State of Free-dom” by Ramya Vivek takes a look at the dismal picture of the country today. The very use of slums, malls and flyovers in the same sentence portrays the reality that is India, like it or not. The author unveils dirty politics, which seem to be all encompassing.  The story puts across the highly relevant point of the need for educated voting. The end is chilling, at one level, because the helplessness of the common man is highlighted.

“The Almost God” by Ramaa  Sonti shows up the unholy alliance between godmen (or godwomen) and the government. Each feeds off the other. The story rolls along with ease to the bitter end. Again, the sufferer is the ordinary citizen. The narrator too seems helpless, taking on the role of an observer only.

“The virtual warrior” by Ramendra Kumar touches upon the very many ills of society, be it the apathy of government doctors, corruption in government offices or road rage of luxury car owners. Godmen too become the butt of the author’s dry humour. The delineation of the problems is enough to make readers wring their hands in despair. Yet, what comes through is a sincere desire to set the world right.

“The Samosa Scam” uses an unusual personification. This lends itself to the proverb, “Walls have ears”. The story portrays heartfelt angst against government lassitude. The author, Kanchan Gandhi, also conveys the significant point that corruption is not only overt, but also covert. The inordinate importance given to snacks at the meeting, touches a familiar chord!

Manna Bahadur in “Mr. MP” puts across the state of affairs today, in a succinct manner. The coaches being detached from the main train in 1947, is a metaphor. In the game of corruption, there is complete trust. This is a spin on the term ‘Honour among thieves’. The story is peppered with little observations, which can be true of any village of any state. It ends on a hopeful note, which lifts up the entire narration.

“Leopard’s tail” by Kavitha Murali  has you hooked from the word go. The choice of the name of the RJ is a dig at the media today. We are taken through the subtle and gradual conversion of the leopard into a tiger. The story is a riot of media exaggeration, political mileage and sheer common sense.

“In search of Mr. Perfect” is a cynical take on groom hunting in this age of matrimonial sites. With tongue firmly in cheek, the author, Piyusha Purnima Vir neatly classifies grooms for the readers’ delectation!

“The Ugly face of death” is by Akshay Abbhi. The story abounds in unusual metaphors: saliva of a sugar glider, for example. The narration is a-shock-a-minute, lulling the reader into a false sense of security and then jumping out at them, so to speak. A passing reference to the different faiths serves to emphasise that death and the final reckoning cannot be escaped by anyone.

“Marriages are made in heaven” by Vandana Jena raises more gender issues than one can shake a stick at! Each word is tongue in cheek. Any reader would start a slow simmer right away, with the father uttering words like “the right values” “dowry” and “Freedom fighters” in the same breath! There is a hint of patronization towards widows too.

Most of the stories, notwithstanding their main theme, also touch upon the marginalisation of women. This thread running through the book shows how much it is on our minds, collectively. Each story is based on a topic that is a burning issue.
 This book serves to show that irony is a strong weapon to combat injustice or the trauma arising consequently. Only a tremendous amount of hard work can achieve such a seemingly simple anthology. Only strongly felt issues can result in such breezy reading.



  1. Thanks Lakshmi :) Wonderful review!

  2. Thank you so much for the detailed and observant review, Lakshmi!

    1. I had great fun doing this, Deepti! I had to hold myself back in case I ruined the suspense!