Book: Trail of Love and Longings: A collection of short stories

Review by Santosh Bakaya

Trail of Love and Longings: A collection of short stories
Author:  Amita Ray 
Publisher: Authorspress 
Price:  295 Rs. 
Year of publication: 2021 
PP 123 

 Dedicated to her parents, Trail of Love and Longings, A collection of short stories, written by Amita Ray is a reader’s delight, each one of these fifteen stories having its special charm and a strong thematic appeal. 

Santosh Bakaya
Short fiction has always held a special attraction for me. Right from my college and school days, I have ravenously gorged on short stories, having been eternally captivated by stories of all genres, the surreal and spooky, sublime and ethereal. Anton Chekhov’s stories are snugly ensconced in my heart, and I can never forget some of his stories and the sense of perfection they were infused with, my all-time favorite being, Lady with the Dog.  Hemingway, Edgar Allen Poe, O’ Henry, Dostoevsky are some of the other writers who have also enthralled and inspired me, so have the stories of Haruki Marakami and George Saunders. 

Some people are of the opinion that short stories are an apprenticeship for longer work; it is not necessarily so. But, yes,  while writing a short story one needs to be unwaveringly targeted, and out of shards, slivers and vignettes create a whole new world. To quote Annie Proulx, short stories stimulate by their “intensity, brevity, balance and word play.” And Ray’s stories, I must say, are not only unwaveringly targeted, but are intense, have an exquisite word play and the reader wants to keep going back to them.
Amita Ray
 Not all stories that story-tellers relate, are figments of the imagination, some are scenes that an author’s sharp eye has observed and stored for future reference. When I co-authored Bring out the Tall Tales, with Avijit Sarkar, many of my stories were the result of something I had seen somewhere, and it had slipped in memory.  I am your Man in the collection was triggered by a scene I had witnessed at a railway station, which refused to leave me till it reappeared in the form of a new avatar – as a short story, which resonated a lot with the people, because of the verisimilitude.

I feel that when we write on a familiar theme, it has a deeper resonance. In this collection, we find that Ray’s detailed and accurate portrayal gives the stories a verisimilitude. The way she gives a detailed description of the frolicking and frisky feline prankster that makes its appearance in the heartwarming story, Taming of the Cat, one is convinced that she had seen it  from very close quarters, first precariously perched on the tree, and later going round and round the room, pathetically entangled in a brass jar. It evoked memories of so many cats that I had been in close proximity with, and also written about, almost convincing the readers that I was a feline psychologist!  I have always loved cats- be it the many cats from Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats or Arthur Conan Doyle’s Brazilian Catso graceful, so sinewy, and so gently and smoothly diabolical’, and now Gullu from Taming of the Cat!
The Divine Will, is a very touching story about the  intense longing of a daughter for her deceased mother, and the epiphanic moment when she realizes that mothers never leave, they are always hovering around, their hands eternally raised in benediction. 

The Longing again, is another story encapsulating a daughter’s love for her mother and the realization that even after they leave this earth, mothers have a knack of sending slivers of blessings to their offspring left behind on earth.

When the façade behind a happy picture of contentment that the old woman Shanta paints of herself, is sadly ripped apart in A Happy family, I could feel my sighs merging with the sighs of the dumbfounded Rini Mukherjee, the young lady who had befriended her on the park bench. 
A beautiful story pulsating with a tragic realism.

All for a Gift is another heartwarming story through which Ray gives us a peep into ‘the beautiful subtleties of life.’ 

Let me confess, that I loved Promita’s Lover a little more than the others because it evoked memories of the way my dad, [who had a doctorate in the Dramatic Monologues of Robert Browning], recited the very lines form Porphyria’s Lover that Ray has quoted.

In one long yellow string I wound 
Three times round her little throat around.
The story, like Browning’s poem Porphyria’s Lover, sent chills up my spine, so did the spooky tale The Grey Lady, somehow reminding me of the Tell-Tale heart of Edgar Allen Poe.
In this collection, Gitanjali, a very touching story about how a marginally autistic child proves more humane, compassionate and understanding than the so called normal people, continues nestling close to my heart and is my favourite.

“and there lay Gitanjali in a corner hidden away from public gaze….
their eyes met perhaps for the first time in a meaningful communication .”

No, I am not going to reveal the story, you need to lay your hands on the book to read not only this absolutely heartwarming story but all the other enchanting ones.

Short stories oft appear to have poetic undertones and in Ray’s stories we find these undertones when she paints nature in poetic hues- the hills, trees, breeze, the sky, the moon and the sun manage to add some more luster to her already lustrous stories. 

It is not very easy to delineate a character in a short story of 1500- 3000 words, but Ray has done it commendably well, be it Sudip and Aruna in All for a Gift, or Sangeeta in The Longing, or Shanta, the strong, old, uncomplaining woman in A Happy Family, even Gullu, the endearing cat in The Taming of the Cat.  Yes, the frolicsome, frisky, stoical character of the cat Gullu, left me dumbfounded.  

These stories of ordinary people leave one with extraordinary feelings, suffused, as they are with emotions of love, compassion and generosity, moving the readers to tears, laughter, epiphanies, and self- introspection.
And yes, the foreword by Dr. Bashabi Fraser is a literary gem, which not only enriches the book by its very insightful and in-depth analysis of the stories but is also a lesson in story writing for all budding story-tellers. 

Authorspress has once again done a commendable job by bringing out this excellent publication. 
A book highly recommended. 

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