Author: Cyrus Mistry
Publisher: Aleph Book Company
The characters that inhabit writer Cyrus Mistry's first collection of short stories — Passion Flower: Seven Stories of Derangement — go about their daily lives with quiet eccentricities.
Percy, the overgrown mama's boy in the opening story Percy, holds the belief that "servility and clowning" are the only two safe options against the punishing life under the controlling ways of his religious mother, Banubai. Preeti of Unexpected Grace, who is grappling with the changes in her life as a new mother, looks at her newborn Anju with disgust, describing her as a "just-concealed, glutinous little clot of life". The thought of smothering the life out of her newborn crosses her life more than once. In the title story Passion Flower, botanist Ashok is engulfed with the greed for a comfortable existence, and is ready to desert his expecting wife Pamela to get what he wants.
Despite their diabolic shortcomings, all of them are precise in their construct. They follow a routine, and like the ticking hands of a clock, function with precision. And in most cases, a miracle or the appearance of an unexpected visitor set their lives back on track. While in Percy's case, it is the ghost of his long-dead friend Dara, in Preeti's case it is the Jolly Medical Shop assistant and her own child whom she detests.
This is Mistry's first published work after he won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature at the Jaipur Literature Festival this year. Of the seven stories, only Passion Flower and Two Angry Men have never been published before. The others have been published over the years in various publications. Percy, first published in a Bombay magazine's special short story edition in 1985, was the screenplay of a movie of the same name starring Kurush Deboo and Priya Krishnaswamy. The movie went on to win the National Film Award in 1991 for the Best Gujarati movie.
Before the DSC Prize's $50,000 award, the reclusive writer, who lives in Kodaikanal with his family, found it hard to pay his bills. "Just before the DSC prize came as a sweet solution to numerous financial exigencies, however, I did feel compelled to take up a job writing copy. A new edition of my first novel, The Radiance of Ashes which had been out of print for some time, and the selection of short stories, Passion Flower, were both a direct consequence of all the media attention my work found as a result of the DSC award," says Mistry.
These wonderfully constructed short stories are peppered with disturbing darkness. While the vice-principal in the title, Banerji, is annoyed with every "Tom, Dick and Hari" requesting for grants from the school, Seth Bhairam Cheliram is not too keen on hiding his manhood from within the translucent layers of his dhoti when he lets his hand graze over Percy's thigh. Preeti, embittered by her husband's proximity to a female colleague, lets her mind "flower with prurient fantasies" of her husband with the other woman as a release from the ten months of abstinence she has just endured.
By his own admission, fiction and the process of writing it, is a largely unplanned activity for Mistry. And he does not deliberately inject these elements. "The important thing for me is the telling of a compelling story or the building of a complex, fascinating character and this process has its own almost subterranean, involuntary dynamic which leads one to the satisfactory conclusion of a story or a novel. I daresay if I tried to replicate such a pattern consciously and deliberately, the results would be disastrously unreadable," says Mistry.
As with his other works, Mistry returns back to the literary comfort of the world of the 'Bombay Parsees', one which he is familiar with. The collection is essentially original, and pulls you into the worlds woven around them, all of which concoct a heady mix of the myth with the mundane. This is a book which will surely live with you for a while after you put it down.