The Peacock in the Chicken Run is part of the four novellas in the short fiction series launched by Tranquebar Press. Aimed at frequent commuters who travel light and love nothing more than a story while they wait to board, the protagonists of these series are often those who find themselves in transit.
McCallum’s novella positions itself literally around the traveller. When a group of Southall Indians are deplaned in Heathrow Airport on their way back ‘home’ to Bombay, the waiting lounge becomes the stage where high drama unfolds, as they are forced to confront their conflicting passions and motives.
Leading the clan is Joginder Sopal, a Eureka man, who believes in all his Great Ideas, which include having a range of garments for the family in the same yellow cloth and finding the eternalized homely girl for Satnam, the prospective groom and adopted son, who is less and less convinced he is up to this Great Idea, and wondering if his rakhi sister, Jaz, is just his badminton partner.
Sharp without being trite, McAllum writes diaspora well.The other colourful cast includes Jaz Sopal, forced to play sister to the man she loves. Gurinder Sopal wonders if he is capable of taking on responsibility that he needs to. Bhao Shinde, who takes odd pleasure in drawing the strangest of analogies and concocting metaphors for the mundane, likening snow to rain’s ‘mute and stupid brother’ and declaring frost to be the ‘true criminal’.
Throw in a white-clad, wheelchair-bound lady, clutching onto a mysterious parcel, and an inter-racial couple on their way to adopt a child, and you have mounting chaos, barely-concealed resentment and quiet hysteria waiting to explode. While the Sopal men drown themselves in drink and engage in bawdy revelry and exchange hard luck stories, the women reach out for their neatly parcelled pakoras and kebabs wrapped in foil, not knowing what this long wait has in store for each of them. That a falling apart is a coming together.
Dawood Ali McCallum lives in the UK and is the author of the thriller Taz and the historical novel The Lords of Alijah, both published by Penguin.