English writing in India almost always comes with hyphens. Indian-writers-in English, Indian-women writers, etc. much to the disdain of the writers, perhaps. It could be an aftereffect of our deep-rooted fascination for English language or that it was always a given that Indians could only write better in their mother tongue. Thankfully, several writers have proven this wrong time and again and today we see fresh takes on Indians perceiving the world around them with mature eyes and penning down their versions of the short story genre. The latest and proud addition to this genre is Smruti Shanbhag’s book of short stories ‘Tear of Joy’. The beauty of a collection of short stories is that the stories are strewn like a string with individual identity while somewhere they come across as adhering to a common theme deep down. Unbeknownst to the writer, the anthology relates to her life experiences in a particular era of her life. In Smruti’s case, it is her strides from Belgaum to Bangalore and then to the US and now in France, which is her home.
‘Tear of Joy’ is a collection of warm stories that leave a feeling of freshly baked cakes, or the hot sip of chocolate on a rain-soaked afternoon! Smruti’s stories come lively with her metaphors. So if there are four women who come together for a cuppa one noon and each speaks of her role as a corporate executive, a wife, a mother and the home-maker while all of them complain of their roles being overlapped, you know soon enough that it’s a metaphor for the multi-tasking woman. As she juggles her roles, each one fights the other at some level. The airport terminal becomes a metaphor for transitions in the life of Nikesh who observes a boy struggle with his baggage, both literal and metaphorical, as he leaves home for further studies. So it unveils that Nikesh was reliving his life through the boy. The magic box is a story many would relate to where self -confidence finds semblance only through the existence of the magic box given to the author by Anita. It is a very good example of ontology in storytelling where the existence of the box and the lost confidence are juxtaposed throughout. A similar ontology plays itself in the story of Rose, a small girl who sees a fairy helping her out in difficult times and whose loss she attributes to the disappearance of the fairy. It’s only when the fairy returns to her life through the mirror that the little girl comes on her own. This story and another one Blackout, where the Chopra family find themselves again after years of being isolated in work as the lights go out and they are forced to speak to each other, show a deep sense of understanding of human psychology on part of the author. Some stories come alive with the vivid details while some others bind the reader with the sheer simplicity of their plot yet the warm rendering that enlivens them is unmistakable. So Pari learns music late in life as she has cherished yet procrastinated the thought for years in A Stitch in time, The Secret Santa leaves behind memories of an Amitabh potboiler like Sharabi where a kindred soul secretly helps a boy get education, Valentine’s Day highlights the Indian way of loving when the grandparents babysit the girls and celebrate Valentine’s day. The man says he never fell in love with his wife, much to the dismay of the reader, while he goes on to say that she never let me fall, he always loved her. All the stories speak of human emotions, of strong human values and have a positive tone throughout. No garish words, no unwanted details and no language gymnastics here. However, the author understands the way a short story works and she uses her experience and charm to full potential.
Smruti weaves a warm web of heartwarming stories that enthrall the reader. She shows tremendous potential as a story writer, her pen deftly caressing emotions using just the right words and expressions. The only point to make about this otherwise good collection is that the stories finish soon leaving the reader wanting for more. Just as the emotion begins to play out, is the end coming. Her next collection must delve deeper into the complexities of a fully developed story, taking time to complete the bell-curve of a story’s journey. As someone who has successfully played the roles of a corporate professional, a doting mother, wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, friend and yet finding the time to pen her creation, Smruti deserves an applause for her very first publication.
‘Tear of Joy’ is available on Amazon as an e-version and also on Print-on-demand copy
‘Tear of Joy’ which is now available on Amazon