Many of the stories are about everyday events: an attendant at the emergency area of a hospital who does not lose his sensitivity; a man who wants to quit a bland stale marriage; a novice being trained to make flower arrangements by the meticulous but very private Mr. Fraser; love affairs in the work place etc. Everyday life is given an edge of passion, or poignancy, or humour, as the story demands.
The title story is both humorous and sad. Govind Shetty has been buying lottery tickets for a long time. His wife complains that he had just spent the money meant for buying a new tiffin carrier on yet another ticket. As he goes to work in the bus, "wedged between two passengers, his tiffin carrier pressed tight against his chest [to avoid seepage], he gets a brilliant idea" -- he will not buy a single thing for his wife when he wins the lottery. Goddess Lakshmi does favour him and he carefully hides the winning ticket where his wife will never find it, but the story ends with: "his wife was right. That day Govind had to walk all the way to the office."
'Tell me Why' is another funny story, of a woman who wonders why nobody appreciates her after all she has done for them, such as effectively wrecking a good match for her niece with her gossipy tongue, and dismissing all the good servants in the house of another niece. One of the nieces lived in Chikamagalur, that had been a sleepy little place, "until Indira Gandhi and Veerendra Patil contested an election and made the place so famous" that the whole world seemed to move there "as though it had been declared a tax-free area." Such apt references to local politics enlivens the narrative in many stories.
Her descriptions are very colourful
The flag leaned against the post, like a timid wife.
The shore was strewn with litter. It looked as if the sea, like a prudent housewife, had done her spring cleaning and thrown out the debris.
One of the diasporic heartaches is for parents left alone back in India. All the stories in this volume are, refeshingly for me, set in India and 'These Remain' shows that the heartache is present just as acutely for parents in India who lose their children to other regions of the country.
My favourite story is 'Where the Stars Go,' which highlights the disdain with which we often tend to dismiss maid-servants' private griefs. When Lingamma loses her son and stays away a week, "Her loss did not affect me, except as a temporary inconvenience. I paid her well. I gave her a yearly bonus. She got the left-over food. My old clothes wrapped her body. I had considered myself a generous mistress." It is only when she loses her own husband, that the narrator understands their shared humanity.
In 'The Blue Convertible' one sees echoes of early writers such as S.K.Chettur and G.K.Chettur, who wrote about eerie experiences encountered during travel in untravelled suburban regions. In 'From the Sea,' one sees magical realism as work, where a marine scientist finds a mermaid dragged into the net she has cast to collect planktons. Mainly, however, Prema Sastri excels in delineating everyday realities with perception in carefully crafted vignettes.
Prema Sastri has lived in India all her life, except for the few years she spent as a student at Pittsburgh. She is a Communication Skills consultant based in Bangalore. She also writes under the pseudonym, Lata Narain, and has written and directed about thirty plays, in addition to authoring four books.
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