Category Archives: Short Story
The tattered copy had a forlorn look as it called out to me from a nondescript corner of Blossoms on Church Street. The book and its author were totally unfamiliar, yet there was something that pulled me in and made me open the cover. The window on the cover opened out to an intriguing picture and the book was mine.
A mathematics professor, who is a “mild mannered acquaintance to all rather than a friend to any, a person anxious to become invisible,’ uncharacteristically invites home, his colleague, an art teacher to view a painting. He instantly recognizes the style as that of Vermeer. The professor indignantly ascertains that it is indeed an original ,
“Look. Look at her eye. Like a pearl. Pearls were favorite items of Vermeer. The longing in her expression. And look at that Delft lighting spilling on to her forehead from the window….the grace of her hand, idle, palm up. How he consecrated a single moment in that hand…..Study, if you will, the varying depths of field. Take a look at the sewing basket placed forward on the table, as he often did, by the way, almost as an obstruction between the viewer and the figure. Is weave is diffused. slightly out of focus, yet the girl’s face is sharply in focus. Look at the lace edge of her cap. Absolutely precise to a pinprick right there at her temple. And now look at the glass of milk. Soft edged, and the map on the wall only a suggestion.”
The professor is almost shameful to disclose how it came into his possession. He just says that it was given to him by his father as he was dying. Thus starts the journey of the painting, going back in time.
It took me the first few chapters to understand the connection and then I read in one of the reviews that some of these chapters were originally written as short stories. The author traces back the painting through each of its owners spanning three centuries and finally ends with the girl in the painting.
Mostly set in Holland, each story portrays the passionate feelings that the picture of the girl evoked in its owners, if you may call them so. The reticent Hannah finds her own reflection in the girl, while for Laurens, it was a sweet remembrance of a girl he had loved and lost, For one lady it paid the price of her release and for Adriaan, it was a means for someone to bring up his illegitimate son and an uncomfortable reminder of the girl whom he did not stand by. As for the girl in the painting, it was a much awaited acknowledgement from her father.
But it was Saskia, the potato farmer’s wife who caught the true essence of it, as she admonishes her husband,
“All you see in life is the work. Just planting, hauling, shoveling, digging. That’s all life is to you. But not to me, Stijn. Not to me. There’s got to be some beauty too.”
The language is almost poetic, there are some great descriptions of the painting, specially about the shades of hyacinth. For a non- connoisseur like me, the author has given some great insights into how the great painters achieve the effect of colours and lighting that makes us immediately recognize their works as masterpieces, and how they leave their own signatures.
“Look at the direction of the brush’s stroke, those tiny grooves of the brush hairs. They have their lighted and their shaded side. Look elsewhere. You’ll find overlapping layers of paint no thicker than silk thread that give a minute difference in shade. That’s what makes it a Vermeer.”
Verdict : A short book comprising of eight short stories, this is a delightful read for a lazy afternoon. You may need some extra time to pause and reflect, at least after a couple of stories.
Over the years, Deepti Naval has remained one of my favorite actors – simple, subtle, down to earth and totally classy. Her short stories are also more or less like her. Drawn from real life, characters that we might have seen somewhere along the way and set in scenarios that many of us are familiar with, the stories are told in a straight from the heart, no frills style.
‘The Piano Tuner’ leaves us with a sense of melancholy while ‘Sisters’ transfers the pain of their helplessness to us. ‘Premonition’ left me a little confused as to what it meant , while ‘Birds’ again ends in a sad note. ‘Bombay Central’ shows us the strange turns that life can take and ‘The Morning After’ is a tale of hope.
The next four stories are more of memoirs and I loved these the best. ‘D’ is about how she meets a childhood friend and a situation that many of us would be familiar with, the difference is in the fact that the author here is a celebrity. The title story ‘The Mad Tibetan’ is about someone whom we would have met in the bustling streets of any city as well as the calm bylanes of a village. She meets this mad man in a far off , almost deserted place in Ladakh. The scenery is captured beautifully in her words.
‘Thulli,’ in my opinion is the best of the lot. Deepti drags her friends one night to the infamous streets of Kamathipura and she sees that intriguing face of the protagonist Thulli at a window. Her story , in Thulli’s own words, told in a very matter of fact way, catches you by the throat. She and her girls are so resigned to their fates and they accept it stoically. The place and the people would remain with the author for a long time. Their life is so well summed up in Thulli’s own words,
“they make sound all the time, but we don’t hear anything anymore. “
‘Balraj Sahni is about how she meets the great actor for the first time and ‘Ruth Mayberry’ about a screen writer who has been writing that one screen play for seventeen long years and how the wait ends.
The overall feeling of the stories is a little melancholic. I thought it reflected the t shades of emotions that we see in the author’s eyes – a tinge of sadness and that feeling that she is somewhere far away.
Verdict : Not a ‘must read’, for sure. You can pick it up as a light read and finish it in less than a day.