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Immutable familial bonds in Keki Daruwalla's Going

Keki Daruwalla's eye for detail and language rescue this flawed collection of stories

Daruwalla's stories offer insights into Parsi customs. Image via istockphoto

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What is distinct in acclaimed writer and poet Keki Daruwalla’s Going: Stories Of Kinship is the way he introduces and fleshes out his morally ambiguous characters.

In the first of five stories, The Brahmaputra Trilogy, the whiter-than-milk protagonist, Vikram, is described as the “fellow who looked every inch an Anglo-Indian but talked like some rickshaw-puller or coolie”. His similarity to a gora makes him an object of ridicule and the 50-page-long story describes the way Vikram tries to rid himself of this “incurable disease”. In Daughter, the third story, Ardeshir, who has earned a reputation as a liberal-minded Parsi, fears estrangement from the community if his daughter elopes with Anwar, a Muslim boy.

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All the five stories in the collection deal with the immutability of familial bonds, the weird ways in which they surface repeatedly, and the degrees to which they influence or restrict us. While attachment, a seemingly well-worn theme, stays central to the anthology, Daruwalla chooses diverse people, places and time zones to bring in differing points of view to help deliver nuance and enrich the reading experience.

His poetic sensibility sneaks into his prose, especially in the way he describes sights and sounds. Take, for example, how light “shimmered as it alighted on their (birds’) backs, as it had glanced off shards of galvanized steel…this vast latticework of wings moving ahead to the accompaniment of the cacophony of bird cries”.

This is from the second story, Bird Island, which comes closest to capturing life. A pensive, reticent son disappears without a trace and grief consumes the parents. The mother resorts to rituals and yajnas, harbouring hope of the son’s return, while the father accepts the slow burn of reality. The story begins on the 10th anniversary of the son’s disappearance, with the father and his longtime friend, an old nawab, on a hunting trip. There is a moving, masterfully crafted turn in the plot here, and that’s where the story should have ended. It doesn’t.

What stayed with me in particular was the insights into Parsi customs, speech patterns and ways of prayer in Daughter. The problems faced by women in the community, be it the discrimination faced during menstruation or the pressure to conform in choice of husbands, felt eerily similar to stories across other communities. But Daruwalla should have kept it shorter—Ardeshir talks, in long and dry monologues, about the specifics of brutality by Muslims while trying to dissuade his daughter from marrying Anwar. There are too many explainers in brackets—necessary to an extent, perhaps, but they tire a reader.

For a collection of stories that simmer slow, and are complex and life-like, more of them could have used indefinite endings, like the one in The Long Night Of The Bhikshu. Too many fall prey to the allure of a full-circle ending. This seems counterintuitive to the nature of these stories. The plots and concerns of each may seem simple, but with Daruwalla’s eye for detail and alluring language, they remind us of life’s many subtleties, especially in its quieter moments, making this—despite its flaws—a collection to remember.

Kinshuk Gupta is a poet and writer from Delhi.

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