23 June, 2021

Home And The World

Nine brilliant short stories pit rootedness against restlessness in Desai's collection

Home And The World
SCHOOL anthologies have a way of putting you off the most wonderful of writers for years. My first encounter with Anita Desai was when we read her short story, The Accompanist, at school. I remember The Accompanist as a cloying piece about a tanpura player who's happy to be playing, so to speak, second fiddle to his paan-chewing Ustad. But 16 is no age to be told that they also serve who only stand and wait. One is impatient with followers: one wants to read about leaders. At 16, one wants to read of fire and passion. It would have made me happier, I think, if the tanpura player had suddenly rebelled, walked out, become an ustad himself.

Ah, well. That was roughly half a lifetime ago. Now, a decade-and-a-half later, I'm more willing to be carried along by this austere prose, this cold gaze, these aching, half-articulated longings that claw at Desai's characters from inside their hearts. It is to be short stories this time, after a series of novels, and I wonder if short stories aren't, in fact, what she does best. Diamond Dust, after the suffocating bleakness of her last...

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