Of Camouflaged Facades
Bhanumati Mishra
THE LOVE SONG OF MAYA K AND OTHER STORIES by Shuma Raha Niyogi Books, New Delhi, 2018, 214 pp., 395
April 2019, volume 43, No 4

Short story writing is not everybody’s forte. The author has to do a tightrope walk while trying to say so much in so little. This genre, which is increasingly getting popular along with other extreme variants like flash fiction and micro fiction is undoubtedly a reflection of our busy times. Shuma Raha’s book makes up a fascinating and enjoyable series of 13 short stories about ordinary men and women. It also demonstrates Raha’s dexterity with locations and themes and her ability to tell straightforward stories while portraying human life.

Our carefully assembled identities are nothing but cleverly camouflaged facades having emotionally deprived interiors. In ‘Love Song of Maya K’, a story that takes its title from the book, Shuma Raha exposes the complexity of sexual relationships but by only hinting at it. The story reflects a metropolitan experience. It has one character displaying veins of feminism while another a hesitantly liberated attitude. Being a ‘recent migrant to the capital’, Maya finds a harbinger in Jamila who navigates her through the liberal echelons of Lutyen’s Delhi. Having walked out of a relationship with longtime boyfriend Sudeep, Maya knows she has to go straight to Jamila—since ‘you could always count on Jammy’. In a detached way she floats from Sudeep to Jamila who is waiting to hold her hand and lead her into her ‘austere parlour’.  Maya and Jamila tread the difficult path between desire and established societal norms. They disobey the boundaries of a preconceived map and meander to find love in unknown places.

In ‘Smell the Coffee Beans, Please’, Sandhya travels between her twin identities of being born in a typical Indian middle-class family and her job in a much sought after up market perfume salon. The story is about the ramblings of a salesgirl who finds herself drawn towards each of her westernized rich male customers. Sandhya keeps daydreaming about an affair with the gorgeous men she encounters at her desk every day. She allows her imagination to run riot with the possibilities that a life with them can hold for her. She is repeatedly confronted not merely by the class difference between her and the affluent customers but also with her redundant, mundane relationship with her current boyfriend Abhishek. He is devoted to her but she doesn’t value him till she spots one of her imaginary ‘knights in shining armour’ in suspicious circumstances one night.

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