Wednesday, January 21, 2009

A Little Short

Read a short story by Hari Kunzru titled Raj, Bohemian. It revolves around monetizing social networks and is almost but not quite neatly done. That can be tantalizing or disappointing based on your perspective. Almost because you sense the potential in the idea but not quite because the ending is so underwhelming. This kind of writing is possibly the hardest to read. You would much rather go in without any expectations and come out none the worse for not having them met.

In this Kunzru number, we have a bunch of artsy, talented, somewhat eccentric characters who form the narrator's social network. He makes a concerted effort to extend the reach of his story to an international audience. There is no smell of spices clinging to the walls of the kitchen - the desis in this story are cool and cosmopolitan. There are no pointers to their cultural provenance except their ethnic names. Plus there is Otto, the German to balance out Sunita the desi.

While all this makes for an interesting ambiance to support the story but that's about all there is to it. Nice atmosphere and style but somewhat short on substance. The last time I had read a book by Kunzru was a while ago and it seems like he is yet to find that one special thing which brings it all together.

Kunzru reminds me of Jhumpa Lahiri who like him has almost everything that it takes to make a wonderful writer except that special spark which most frustrating remains missing. You find a beautifully articulated thought here, a deftly sketched character there but when you add it all up, it does not amount to as much as you would expect it to.

Now, Chetan Bhagat on the other had is a good story-teller. He may not be nearly as literary as Kunzru or Lahiri but he does a very decent job of holding your attention as he unfolds his tale. When you bring the strengths of a natural raconteur like Bhagat together with the art and craft of say a Kunzru or Lahiri then you have a real winner - the new desi literary sensation.

I am a big fan of a story told lucidly and from the heart like R.K Narayan and Anita Desai have done time after time. Rushdie did it with Haroun and the Sea of Stories and Seth with The Golden Gate. Recently, I chanced upon a short story by Satyajit Ray titled Patol Babu which may lack in style but is a delightful read all the same. It would nice to have more of the current subcontinental literati return to such simplicity.

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