Publisher: Harper Collins
‘Tyrewala’s insightful introduction greatly enhances the reading experience… The collection is astonishingly diverse… Tyrewala’s anthology offers a sampling of brand-new authors and a superb introduction. It might provide a fictional contrast to Katherine Boo’s ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’.’
– Library Journal.
It’s quite a trap to review a short story collection, especially when they are written by authors so well-known and whose writing styles vary so widely. Be as that may, Akashic Books have to be extolled for launching this ground-breaking series of original noir anthologies. With titles like ‘Baltimore Noir’, ‘Chicago Noir’, ‘Haiti Noir’ and ‘Paris Noir’, this volume is merely the tip of a very successful iceberg.
Popular culture has captured all that is dark and dusky about Mumbai. Movies, novels and the likes have managed to do what its citizens never wanted it to: portray Mumbai as a hopeful place. The city of dreams it may be, but dreams don’t come true unless a few compromises are made. It’s downright scary just how they go around finding the middle ground. First things first, none of the stories in this anthology are easy reads. More than that, they are fairly hard to digest. As the title suggests, ‘Mumbai Noir’ sharply focuses on the darker side of the city. And how so! The stories depict the many ways in which the city’s ever-present shadowy aspects more than often force themselves onto the lives of ordinary people.
The stories in the anthology fall under three main parts, namely ‘Bomb-ay’, ‘Dangerous Liaisons’ and ‘An Island Unto Itself’. To the layman, it may seem as if the each story gets better as you read up the line, but the finesse of the editing seems to have made the reading much crisper than it would have been.
One can’t help but get pulled into Devashish Makhija’s story ‘By Two’ which tells the tale of two brothers, Ram and Rahim, one mute and the other quite sane. Struggling to make a living, it is reminiscent of the Bollywood flick ‘Kaminey’ to some extent. Anne Zaidi’s ‘A Suitable Girl’ talks about a different facet of the city, which is stalking – something very commonplace here. The best story of the lot inadvertently has to be Avtar Singh’s ‘Pakeezah’ – a tale that begins within the dark corners of a bar as a story and ends as one too. The editor, Tyrewala, has a story of his own which is fairly mild.
A helpful part in the book is the map that pinpoints the various places where the stories take place. There is a lot of crime and death in this book, which is to be expected in this genre.
What is surprising though is how almost every author inevitably brings forward the darkest side and never fails to end it on a hopeful note. Part of Tyrewala’s introduction should ring a bell in every Mumbaikar:
‘A tragedy in one part of Mumbai barely registers elsewhere. People fall off moving trains, bombs erupt in busy bazaars, lives are made and broken in the city’s daily flux, and things go on as usual.’
Having gorged on the fourteen stories offered, I have to say that it’s not Mumbai I am afraid of. It’s old Bombay’s underbelly that scares me shitless.
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