Review: The Window Sill, ‘a celebration of the mundane’

Book Name: The Window Sill

Author: Nishi Pulugurtha

 Hawakal Publishers (May 30, 2021), INR 250

ISBN: 978-8195240142



            As I read through the twenty short stories in Nishi Pulugurtha’s debut collection of short stories “The Window Sill’, it reminded me of a few lines expressed by the famous American short story writer, Raymond Carver. He said: “It’s possible, in a poem or short story, to write about commonplace things and objects using commonplace but precise language, and to endow those things – a chair, a window curtain, a fork, a stone, a woman’s earring – with immense, even startling power.” It is surely not a very easy feat, but Ms. Pulugurtha has done it with success in her maiden short story collection.

Nishi Pulugurtha

             The book, which has a very attractive cover of a windowsill, laden with vibrant pink flowers, begins with the author’s own ‘Impressions’. She mentions: “Small snippets of conversation, an anecdote, someone I met or heard about, a travel experience, something that I read, an object that sets off a train of thought- my stories have their origin in almost any little thing that strikes me.” She deals with the bits and pieces that have taken her fancy. The bits and pieces that she had stored away from her array of experiences, in her little observations that have universal connotations.

             Her world has both highs and lows, but what strikes out from her stories is a kind of musing, little glimpses into the lives of several characters we meet in our everyday life. Her stories are stories of love or the lack of it, loss, connection, dissatisfaction, struggle, regrets, and these lend a solid realness to her stories. Each of the stories has a unique feel. For example- the story ‘Hide and Seek’ that speaks of a child’s desire to teach the parents ‘a lesson’; or, the story ‘Spinster’ where the ‘plain looking and very simple’, unnamed protagonist, despite living a life of neglect at home where ‘all she had to face was the boredom of being alone and a sense of being confined in a dark windowless room,’ [Page 58, Spinster], decides to ‘celebrate her birthday the way she wanted.’ [Page 62, Spinster] Or, in the very next story called the ‘Movie Time’ where Rinita, who was ‘so used to hearing a ‘no’ to everything she said,[Page 63, Movie Time] from her husband, yet she does not give in to his bullying behavior, but continues taking pleasure in taking such harmless decision as going to a movie.

Chaitali Sengupta

            She keeps the stories short, and the readers hooked in suspense, for while reading the pages, we have little idea as to how the story will end. A very good example of this is the short story called ‘Samaresh’ [Page 104]. This story stands out from the rest as it deals with the plight of a fisherman’s family battered by the recent cyclone Amphan. Pulugurtha writes this story, through the lens of a child, and the stark minimalism and the bare-bone language, hits you hard as you flow through her prose: ‘Dida made a nice fish dish. I like eating fish. I also like eating kolmi shaak. Mama said he got the shaak from a field nearby. Ma makes it very well. But Ma is not at home. She is in Kolkata. She works in a house there and looks after another Dida.’ [Samaresh, Page 104] In the end, Samaresh says: ‘After some time the wind stopped. I think it got tired. It was still raining, someone said. Hori’s dadu started to sing a song. Ma sang that song too. I liked that song. I didn’t tell you my name. My name is Samaresh.’ [Samaresh, Page 108] What happened after that? Was Samaresh able to contact his mother? Could they get back to their home? The questions linger in our mind as we end the story, but the author leaves that up to the readers to decide. This crafted ambiguity is a hallmark of most of her stories in this collection and raises our expectation as we read on.

            I’m specifically drawn to the women characters in her stories, characters snared in a tattered web of unhappy relationships, loveless marriages, a sort of postmodern distress. The characters, be it Seema from ‘Seema’s choice’ [Page 52], or, Rinita from ‘Movie Time’ [Page 63], or Anima from ‘Little Mercies’ [Page 29], they channel their voices without fussiness, in a simple matter-of-fact, easy way. These above-mentioned stories and a few others are fraught with male-female tensions, there is an ebb and flow of confrontations, that most of the time culminate in friction. But be it Seema, Rinita, Anima, or the character of the unnamed spinster, no matter how impossible a situation faces them, they do not surrender to its pressures, and almost all of them find the strength to embrace life with their own choices.

            Ms. Pulugurtha’s women characters are mostly working women from various strata of our society, trying hard to balance work and motherhood or other caretaking. While the male characters in her stories are arrogant, stiff, bullying, uncaring and overbearing, her women characters are hardworking, and they work as schoolteachers, maids, caretaking women, office clerks, and of course, as housewives.

            As they begin to talk, we easily slid into the complete world of their daily lives. Their stories are a ‘slice-of-life’, and although they are easily recognizable characters from our daily life, they are educated, free-willed, and value their own freedom. Men are mostly getting the upper hand in these stories, but the women too, gradually come out realizing they do not need to stay bound in these uncaring situations. And they try hard to gain their foothold in a society that has them shackled in many ways due to their gender and their roles.

            Like, the author in ‘Seema’s Choice’ says: ‘It had been another day at office, just like any other. She had joined this office thirty years ago. Her folks said she had been lucky to get this job, that too just a month after graduating. It was the very same job that she was at, it was not very cushy, the work was monotonous, but then she had got used to it by now.’ [Page 52] or Rumki from the story ‘Tea with Moni’ who works so that her daughter’s life would be different than hers. She spends her life with her high-handed husband Kishore, who ‘decided on everything. Rumki had no say in anything. It was almost as if she did not exist.’ [Page 36]: But despite all the friction at home, Rumki wouldn’t think of leaving her job. ‘Rumki could never quit her job, she needed that money. She paid most of the household expenses.’ [Page 36]. I personally feel in these stories, Nishi Pulugurtha’s writing is at its finest, perfectly poised, and shorn of all superlatives.

            Her words and her prose are direct, concrete, not slippery. There is nothing in them to blur the meaning, and the author lets her characters live and breathe in the pages. The Window Sill shows Pulugurtha’s striking range and her deeply-honed craft of storytelling. What makes these stories so absorbing and ultimately so engaging is their absolute ordinariness. In my opinion, this transparency of prose and her strong powers of observation are the greatest strengths of her book.

            The Window Sill is a treat of a book, one can read the stories several times for their simplicity and be in the pleasant company of Ms. Pulugurtha’s earnest prose and her interesting characters. It is undoubtedly a rewarding experience to read the stories in this collection.            


Bio-Note: Chaitali Sengupta is a published writer, a poet, a translator, and a journalist based in the Netherlands. She has contributed largely to the esteemed international anthologies and online/print journals. “Cross Stitched words”, her debut collection of prose-poems, has been recently published in the USA. Her two translated works are “Quiet whispers of our heart” & “A thousand words of heart”.

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