The first thing that strikes you about the book – Kismetwali and Other stories – is the cover. A photograph of puppets – that means nothing at the start, but as one progresses through the eight stories, one understands the comparison made between fate and human lives. Fate sometimes remains the master puppeteer and sometimes life and human will aspires to take the control away from fate.
Set against the backdrop of modern-day India, Kismetwali and Other Stories are about situations and circumstances that are beyond status and style; purse and prestige.
Each narrative showcases walas and walis of the working class—the common yet indispensible people who sell things and are providers of service — as powerful individuals who are moved to the limelight by quirks of fate. The rigid social divide between different classes, is therefore, rendered completely redundant. Instead of being a pitiful observation of the lives of those who inhabit the lowest rungs of the Indian society as service providers, each one of the stories celebrates their moments of awareness and significance. It is a celebration of each wala or wali of discovering his or her own importance. The subalterns are the active dynamos and transitional elements that take each story forward to conclusions that are just not expected.
The shavewala, a barber is a participant in a love story that spans the oceans; the phoolwali is a scarred girl, who while culling bones in a crematorium dreams of bringing compassion and warmth in a world with flowers; the maalishwaali is a loyal masseuse who is privy to a secret and yet reveals life truths to the family she serves; the kebabwala who tweaks a recipe to serve a deserving lesson and many more such ‘downtrodden’ who exist in the shadows of society take centre-stage in this book that is simply un-put-down-able.
The stories are much more than engrossing and are written with such lucidity that the after taste of each story lingers on much after you have read the book – which should be a must!
This superb and unusual debut is certainly a must-read.
Book: Kismetwali and Other stories
Author: Reetika Khanna Nijhawan
Publisher: Om Books International
Price: Rs 295
Review by Aarti Kapur Singh
Cover Image by Om Books International