Slices of Life

Sarna's language, though never self-consciously 'poetic', is the high point of his stories, as also his ability to create a powerful impact in a few words. In 'Rumki', for example, the girl Rumki's tragic story is told very briefly, almost in passing, part of the larger story of a trainee administrator's experience of an official stay in a village. Though Saran touches her only tangentially, he manages to make Rumki the heroine of the story. And in the end, the writer, in just one line, reveals the young man's awareness of his helplessness to do anything about Rumki.

A good short story briefly illuminates a few moments, an event, or a relationship so brilliantly that some light is shed on the past as well as on the future. Sarna's best stories work in this way, piercing the shadows of the past, and giving a glimpse of the future. If there is a problem, it is that the end is often too abrupt. As in 'Golden Twilight', where a woman, whose unusualness is sympathetically evoked, finally becomes a poet, a conclusion that seems to come out of nowhere. A larger problem is that, in a number of stories, there is a sense of something lacking. Is it because the writer seems hesitant to plunge into the depths of his story, of his characters? One gets a feeling that he is holding himself back from getting into greater depths.

Nevertheless, this is a very welcome collection. There aren't many good short story writers in English today, unlike the bhashas, where the short story scene is vibrant. It is a pleasure, too, to read a writer whose language and craft keep pace with each other, and who promises to be an excellent short story writer — if only publishers don't seduce him away from short stories and into embracing novels. 

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