Book Review | Storywallah

Title: Storywallah
Author: Neelesh Misra’s Mandali
Pages: 214
Price: INR 250

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Storywallah by Neelesh Misra’s Mandali is a collection of 20 short stories set in rural and urban India, with a common thread of nostalgia, love and longing. Misra presents a selection of diverse, handpicked and mentored writers from across India, each with a distinct voice.

You will encounter some bittersweet moments of relationships, romantic and otherwise, some harsh truths about life, and about growing up and letting go. You will also find yourself quietly smiling at the end of some of the stories because you will catch a glimpse of yourself in those words. There will be some very familiar situations that life throws at all of us, and you will find it heartening to know how each protagonist takes charge of his or her individual narrative.

Largely set in hometowns and popular hill stations, Storywallahreacquainted me with simpler times. To perhaps when I was less cynical and more willing to believe in the magic of time and its power to heal. To be willing to give people, and life itself, another chance. To be willing to embrace the chance encounter and relish the numerous possibilities the moment holds. Like the movie Tamasha says, each one of us has the freedom to choose how our stories will unfold.

One story that stayed with me in particular was A Bird in Flightby Snehvir Gosain. “Akhilesh’s childhood had been left behind, and Shivshankar’s was returning.” Shivshankar is struggling to accept that his childhood is to be sold. How does one put a price to a lifetime of memories? But Akhilesh has little time for such sentimentalities. Do the father and son arrive at middle ground to resolve it?

This collection started out as radio stories in Hindi for Yaadon Ka Idiotbox, Misra’s popular radio show. In Storywallah, they appear as English translations for the first time. However, the translations, owing to some inconsistences, don’t do justice to the entire gamut of emotions portrayed in each of the plots, as is often the challenge for translated works. In this collection, the timelines in some of the stories, in particular, are unclear, while some sentences are a literal translation. But some sentences on the other hand are an absolute delight to read. For example, in Wildflower, I read, “There are some flowers that don’t want to grow in gardens, so sensitive that if you don’t touch them with tenderness they will scatter. But if you let them be, they will bloom even among rocks.”

It is easy to see why these plots worked beautifully in a radio story format. There is heavy emphasis on detailed visual descriptions and pregnant pauses (and the words that rush to fill those). And when these are narrated across airwaves on lonely nights, one almost feels the presence of kindred spirits. The book falls slightly short on this account.

But it’s still a good start to have these stories in print to reach a wider audience. And I hope to see sequels to this collection.

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