There’s always something appealing about short stories — narrating a tale within restricted pages and yet perfectly delivering thrill or suspense; stories that make the readers finish the book at one go — or, if not, then in the quickest possible time.
Amit Dasgupta’s The House and Other Stories succeeds in doing just that. It’s a collection of three stories attached to a single important string called Calcutta (now Kolkata). Not surprisingly, the protagonists are all Bengalis.
Dasgupta, a retired Indian diplomat and now an educator, explains the city thus: Calcutta “as all Bengalis will tell you, even when the city stands quietly in the corner, not saying a word, her presence may be deeply felt by those close to her”, adding that “Calcutta is a city where it is difficult to keep secrets”.
Thus, “Calcutta is the dominant and central character in each of the three stories in this book. Somehow or the other, she keeps coming back again and again”. However, the book is not just about the city, but goes beyond it — and will appeal even to readers who haven’t stayed in Calcutta or are not closely associated with, or accustomed to, Bengali culture.
All this through simple belongings like a diary, a last letter or simply a house that is a witness to many stories and incidents of a family and an individual.
The first story, “Mohua”, might remind the readers of Satyajit Ray’s short stories. The protagonist comes to know about the story of a girl named Mohua Emily Dey, who lived in Dey Mansion on Moira Street with her father, Parimal Albert Dey. Mohua had died some 100 years ago and unnatural happenings are often associated with the house. But the protagonist, under mysterious circumstances, lands up in the house. What happens thereafter is better left for the reader to discover.
“The Little Red Book” is the story of a septuagenarian who is trying to overcome the void created by the death of his wife. Initially, he finds the company of his daughter and her family soothing in Berlin. He decides to return and it is in his home at Dover Lane in Calcutta that he finds peace. He suddenly discovers a horoscope which predicts his death the next year and starts writing a diary for his daughter, but fate had something else in store for him.
The final offering is “The House”, story of an elderly couple, Rajat and Monisha, whose son Aloke flies down from the US after he receives the news of his father not being well. Although Monisha remains hesitant to accompany hers son to the US following her husband’s death, she finally agrees to move to her son’s house — but the house is not a home for Monisha.
The stories succeed in grabbing the attention of the reader. The book’s an absolute page-turner.