We mentioned in our review of ‘Urban Shots‘, the first short story collection of Urban tales in India published by Grey Oak Publications, that we will come up with the review of ‘Down The Road‘, their next anthology soon. And here we are.
‘Down The Road‘, co-edited by Ahmed Faiyaz and Rohini Kejriwal, is a collection of ‘28 campus tales by 16 authors‘, as the well-adorned cover reads. Since the success of ‘Urban Shots‘, it was quite natural for Grey Oak Publications to come out with another anthology of the same type, and ‘Down The Road‘ is their second offering to the short story lovers of the country.
Like the way we reviewed ‘Urban Shots‘ according to the sectional divisions done in the book, we are going to take the same stance for this book also. Since ‘Down The Road‘ is a collection of campus related short stories, the sectional divisions are well-expected, and aptly done as well:
‘Attendance is Compulsory‘, ‘Festivals, Elections & Placements‘, ‘Lights Out‘ and ‘Looking Back‘. Two ‘Essays‘ are also included under the section under the same title.
The section-wise dissection is as done below:
Section 1: ‘Attendance is Compulsory‘
This section contains ten stories by six writers, with four from Ahmed Faiyaz and two from Ira Trivedi.
The way the stories have been ordered in this section is impressive.
Suppose, you’re in a foul mood in the evening, with a bottle of beer in your hand, your girl gone out for shopping to the nearest mall; and you take out your copy of ‘Down The Road‘ to distract yourself from the impending problems surrounding your life. You receive a jolt after going through the first story itself. All the memories of your college life, the campus, the romance – your life seems to rush back to you, and for the first time in the evening you thank yourself for your loneliness.
Hats off to the stories in this section for the perfect start possible. Stories by Naman Saraiya and Sahil Khan, who were also featured on ‘Urban Shots‘ were also there in this section, but none of the two shorts managed to stand out. Naman’s ‘One Bump does no Harm‘ is a much better rendition than his contribution to the previous anthology, whereas, Sahil’s ‘That’s it?‘ was too much abstract for few readers who have gone through it.
We did a survey of few of the stories mentioned in this review by asking random readers to go through them. This review reflects much of the feedbacks we received from the survey.
Stand out Numbers: ‘The Music Room‘ and ‘Rishi and Me‘, both by Ira Trivedi.
Section 2: ‘Festivals, Elections & Placements‘
Seven stories by six writers – this section is a very balanced one with respect to the author:story ratio, the only repetition being from Ahmed Faiyaz.
The stories have been very meticulously written, with different aspects of a matured campus life being portrayed perfectly.
Though we didn’t like the re-entry of ‘Between Friends‘ by Paritosh Uttam as a contribution, and also Ranjani Iyer’s introduction to the readers as a mean of creating some hype for her debut novel, albeit published by Grey Oaks. These two stories did not do justice to the collection. For readers who have not read the ‘Urban Shots‘, things may not matter much, but for critical reviewers these redundancies are something which fail to provide positive impression. As a standalone shortie, ‘Dimples and Cute Smiles‘ can’t be complained about, but the disclaimer at the end of the story manages to wear off all the feel-goodness associated with it. And ‘Between Friends‘ seemed to be a waste of resources, for all we did was to skip it.
Stand out Numbers: After a strong tussle among two shorts, we decided to go with both. ‘Well Placed‘ by Ahmed Faiyaz and ‘The Cafe with no name‘ by Sneh Thakur deserve equal applause.
Section 3: ‘Lights Out‘
This section boasts of six shorts, contributed by five writers, with the only double from Malathi Jaikumar.
Again a very well-selected and well-edited collection of stories, this section shows intense maturity, the maturity that we gain from life, from the various ups and downs.
Stand out Numbers: ‘Just a Moment‘ by Nikhil Rajagopalan, anyday.
Section 4: ‘Looking Back‘
The title of the section indicates nostalgia, and we expected some serious doses of heart wrenching stories, but alas, this section turned out to be the weakest section in the total anthology. Five stories by four writers later, only two turned out to be worth mentioning – ‘Time‘ by Ahmed Faiyaz and ‘An Accidental Start‘ by Kunal Dhabalia. Kunal’s short this time is a much better one than his only contribution for ‘Urban Shots’.
Stand out Number: ‘An Accidental Start‘ by Kunal Dhabalia.
Last Section(?): ‘Essays‘
It’s not sure why the editors decided to go with this section, but whatever the reason maybe (of which ‘awareness’ seems to be the most apt word to describe), the two ‘essays’ featured here read as if they were forced contributions. For the uninitiateds, ‘Fiction On Campus‘ maybe a ‘little’ helpful, but ‘Bollywood on Campus‘ just does not suit a bit to the taste and feel of the quality of short stories included in the collection.
In another word, lacking simulating characteristics? Yeah.
Overall Impression: After the role of Paritosh Uttam as the editor for ‘Urban Shots‘, this time Ahmed Faiyaz and Rohini Kejriwal are the ones who made ‘Down The Road‘ happen. A very well selected collection of short stories, with its share of follies and’ Thumbs-Up’s, this collection does not disappoint much, if seen from a larger point of view of a reviewer. Not many anthologies of short stories, or essays, or poems are being published in our country, and the effort of Grey Oak Publications that way is much vital for the current English writing scenario of India.
As a change, the foreword has been written this time by Sahil Khan, with Rohini Kejriwal taking up a more responsible position as a co-editor and contributor for the collection. The writers have been kept more or less unchanged from ‘Urban Shots‘, and with repeated multiple entries by the some writers, one wonders if there is any dearth of quality English short story writers in the country.
The stories have tried to touch every nooks and corners of campus life – be it in school or college. Ragging, first-crush to first-love, intricacies of campus politics, placements related complexes, crush on class teacher, et al – a huge spectrum has been covered. But somehow, somewhere, the readers fail to be nostalgic the way this collection was meant to make them.
Just when one was starting to relive his own journey from the first days of stepping in the college campus, to proposing the girl he can do anything for, to churning out the dream offer from his dream company; he falls face-down on the ground with a loud thump. Somehow, the strings of the guitar does not seem well-tuned to him, somehow the stories does not make him shiver for the fear of ragging he could have faced the next day in college, somehow the stories fail to make him shed a tear or two for his first crush in school that is his cute 21ish class teacher, somehow the stories forgets to instil in him the passion of his first kiss – ‘Down The Road’ fails to live up to the expectations.
Best Stories of the lot:
1. ‘Just a Moment‘ by Nikhil Rajagopalan
2. ‘Rishi & Me‘ by Ira Trivedi
3. ‘The Cafe with No Name‘ by Sneh Thakur
Overall Rating: 8/10
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