Thursday, July 24, 2008

Review published in BR International, March 2008 issue.BR Int'l is published in Hong Kong

Indian English Stories is a critical and historical survey of the Indian short story in English. As a genre the short story has generally been neglected by Indian writers, publishers and critics. Murli Melwani makes an unconventional claim in his book and follows it up with very cogent arguments. He claims that the short story form is more flexible than the longer form of the novel and therefore capable of reflecting a broader spectrum of Indian experience than the novel. Considering that India is a multi-cultural and multi-ethnic society, I find merit in that argument, especially at a time when India is emerging as a powerful player on the world stage. With greater interaction between Indians and foreigners, the area of experience is bound to widen, thus providing newer themes for writers. The plasticity of the short story form will be able to capture and convey the new experiences.

I find Melwani’s approach to his subject matter in this book refreshing. He does not merely study individual stories or writers. He studies the short stories of well known as well as lesser known writers against the political, social and cultural background of the times. He examines how the political, social and cultural events influence particular writers and how the contemporary events are reflected in the writers’ work.

The foregoing sentence may give the impression that this book is a social tract. It is not, because the main focus in the book is the literary quality of a particular short story writer’s work. Melwani studies a writer’s approach to characterization, atmosphere, theme, dialogue and style in the context of the larger events.

The first short story in English was written in 1835, shortly after Lord Macaulay’s bill introduced English as the medium of instruction in India. The book divides the era from 1835 to the present day into different periods: 1835-1935, 1935-1950, 50-60, 60-70, 1980-2006.The author uses this method of classification to blend a historical survey with a critical study.

Between 1835 and 1935, the writers proudly documented the customs and traditions of Indian life. These writers prepared the way for the giants who between 1935 and 1950 corrected the impression of India and its inhabitants created by the colonial writers and portrayed India as it really is.

The emphasis shifted in the fifties to other subjects with satire being the predominant approach. In the sixties, seventies and eighties the themes expanded exponentially and every aspect of Indian life and nuance of experience provided themes for the short stories.

The language in which such analysis is presented is anything but bookish. Melwani has an easy, conversational style, which draws the reader into the narration.

Murli Melwani writes in the Preface,” Reading the stories I have discussed in my book gave me hours of pleasure. If my book can convince the reader to turn to the stories themselves, my pleasure would be increased manifold.” Indian English Stories is a virtual story-tasting fest. The fest will whet the palates of a legion of readers; there is no reason why Murli Melwani’s “pleasure” should not” be increased manifold.”

Reviewed by Amar Vaswani, Atlanta,USA

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