My love for Parvati Sharma’s writing began when I read The Quilt, an adaptation of Ismat Chugtai’s Lihaaf in Electric Feather and now with her debut book “The Dead Camel and other stories of love” , I am just seconds away from begging her to marry me. For those of you who don’t know Parvati Sharma, let me give you a brief introduction. She is a lesbian writer based in New Delhi and has worked as an editor, journalist and travel writer among other things. I am told, she is lovely, fantastic, gifted with an ironic sense of humor and foremost, an extremely talented writer.
Her book, The Dead Camel and other stories of love is an impressive collection of evocative stories which convey the vibrance and simplicity of human relationships. A writers’ writer, her prose is elegant and characters perfectly believable. The smallest of details fail to escape her, and the subtle descriptions that make up the substance of her characters’ everyday lives makes the reading more of a tender experience than anything else. The twelve stories are diverse, surprisingly original, and very lively. A common thread running through all her stories is love – love which is never lost.
In “First Love”, Parvati captures the innocent yet twisted mind of a young girl who has fallen for a guy in her college. The story eventually turns into a love triangle but is delivered in a wickedly surprising manner. The fact that the girl is neither jealous nor insecure and continues to woo the object of her desire is tasteful and quite mature. It is genuinely emotionally engaging, and describes the highs and lows of adolescence.
“How Hollow Tolls the Temple’s Bell” is a funny moving account of an aspiring writer who’s trying to write a book and finally get it published. You can’t help but laugh when you read a line like:
“He returned with five spiral-bound copies, which he dispatched to the five publishers he had known. Immediately, four of them stopped taking his calls. The fifth was ….”
The fifth was someone he almost killed! Her gift of storytelling and sense of humor is totally visible in this one.
One of my favorite, “The Fetishist” is a sharp and amusing story of a guy who has an obsessive fetish for making beds. We have often heard of how love is found in the most unlikely places, and in this story our hero finds it in the park above Palika Bazaar in Connaught Place. His perfect partner accepts him in totality and does find his obsession for neat beds quite sexy! It ends on a sexy flirtatious note leaving you with a goofy smile, a little horny and craving for more.
In an equally beautifully crafted gay story, “Re: Elections, 2004” the protagonist is critical, instinctive and observant of her surroundings. It is a fascinating story, in which the past makes sense of the present and the present makes sense of the past. The story rings a bell of past, the communal riots of 1984 and Godhra incident that continues to haunt millions of us even today and invokes various perceptions to the eternal question “Is democracy working for us?” And in between this debate is the longing of her ex girlfriend who is a Muslim. It is a story of love… love that is left over after ‘being in love’ has burned away.
“The Dead Camel” is another masterpiece in this collection. It ain’t just a small matter of a dead camel lying unattended on the streets of Delhi and haunting the narrator in his dreams but a full fabric of human relationships, the solitude of lovers engaged in intellectual and physical harmony and the daily dramas that arise within a relationship.
The only one story which did not appeal to me much is “Words Strung Out to Dry, Flapping Wetly in the Dark”. I found it a little too complex, got lost in the cleverness of the words, depressive feelings and lost the essence of the story. But it might resonate well with other readers.
This book is incomparable and unbelievably good. And Parvati Sharma is like the first breeze of autumn and a gift to the world of contemporary Indian authors. She’s truly remarkable. My little advice to you all is – if you enjoy the Indian-ness of stories, like the taste of streets and their names on your tongue and love a story which engages your mind, body and soul; go grab this book before the stores flash the board ‘All Sold out!’.