The ordinary is…unbelievable

Book: Blue is Like Blue

Author: Vinod Kumar Shukla

Translated by: Arvind Krishna Mehrotra & Sara Rai

Publisher: Harper Perennial

Pages: 168; Price: Rs 399

The book is a compilation of stories of one of the most eminent voices in Hindi literature, popularly known as V. K. Shukla. The translation makes available his short stories that speak of the “magical” in the everyday mundane life.

His stories display conflicting perspectives: the so called rational order of the universe and on other hand the acceptance of the “fantastic” in the prosaic world.

Set in the normal, modern world with authentic descriptions of humans and society, Shukla’s stories are set in market places, streets, homes, rented houses and college spaces. Predictable characters act in unpredictable ways and provide fascinating insights into human behavior and natures.

The protagonist of Twenty Rupees who broods over missing money and buys a movie ticket from the black market, the existential dilemma of the tenant of Room on the Tree, the conformism and violence of the crowds in Spare Time of the Crowds (to name a few) explain a world view that is not based on natural or physical laws nor objective reality, rather speak of the inconsistency and arbitrariness of universe and human actions.

His descriptions of familial relationships, education institutions and bazaars in stories provide interesting perceptions of the author’s socialist imagination.

His meeting with the Marxist poet Muktibodh in Old Veranda, the indifference of the bazaar places and education institutions in College, violent domestic spaces in Fish and The Man’s Woman provide understandings of the same.

Yet, works infused with magic, example, seeing a man with two noses, bus flying in the air, a man passing through the street twice without having returned once, provides moments of fusing of the real world and the fantastic. The translations do justice to the original texts and the book is an engaging read for anyone interested in modern Indian literature in English.