OVERALL: 4/5  

My musings

I love short stories. I love how fleeting and yet wholesome they are, capturing worlds in just a few pages. I truly admire those who can pen short stories, condensing so much into so less. I admire them more because I believe I do not possess this art, this art of brevity and succinctness. Maybe one day, I will. But for now, I do my part by reading those who do and taking inspiration from them.

So, happy to have come across yet another short story collection, I eagerly sat down to read it. Read on to know more about my thoughts on Viggy Bala’s Sham, Drudgery, and a Beautiful World. 

First Impressions

One look at the book and you are bound to call the cover unimpressive. Maybe it was left unadorned on purpose, but if you are going for the minimalistic look, I would rather have you take inspiration from Japanese covers. They do minimalism so well.

What to expect?

Expect a short read of under 150 pages. Expect a collection of nine short stories which talk of different things and portray different emotions and themes. Expect a book that will give you a few memorable tales to last you a while.

In the below paragraphs I talk about each of the nine stories in the collection Sham, Drudgery, and a Beautiful World

Sonya is about a young woman living in Germany, who, distressed by a strange man stalking her, walks into a police station, only to have karma catching up on her. The story is a slow burn, starting on an ordinary note, but slowly and steadily building on the momentum and a sense of foreboding. The setting is rather unique and offers a small albeit interesting view of what life looks like for those in Germany. The story culminates in an abrupt twist.

The Theatre Owner is an extraordinary tale, of a kind that leaves you with the satisfaction of having read something truly amazing. In the story, you’ll find everything – a character you’ll slowly and steadily become invested in, a setting and backdrop that would remind you of an India that resides only in memory, a plot that keeps you hooked, and a climax that brings that story to a befitting end.

Duraisamy, a dhoti-clad middle-aged owner of Nathambal Talkies is in great debt. The theatre, established by his father, had once boasted of golden days but now lies in debt. The business is on a steady decline and Duraisamy is distraught. 

Of all the stories in the collection, this is undoubtedly my favorite. The small-town setting, replete with relatable characters, and their struggle for survival – all of it together makes it a memorable read.

The Train Theft shows how a little concern and compassion when combined with a sense of duty and a strong intellect can go a long way in helping others. A short story that revolves around a train theft and shows elements of detective fiction, it portrays a smart and duty-bound Superintendent of Railway Police who, in a matter of just a few hours, solves a seemingly unsolvable crime. In the process, helping to recover a poor man’s life savings.

Knife-Point is another tale that narrates the complexity of human emotions. It shows us how humans exist, not as black and white, but as a unique combination of both, often seamlessly navigating from one end to the other. It is also a portrayal of the inherent good that exists in all of us. At the same time, the story serves as a crude reminder of the workings of Karma. How, no matter how hard we try, we can never escape the consequences of our actions, how karma always manages to catch up.

The Ceremony is again a powerful story that speaks of our loudest fears and our biggest weaknesses. How, in this cruel world, even the noblest of souls cannot make a difference without the backing of money, muscle, or power. Most of us mortal beings are mere cogs in the wheel, bleeding for that gigantic machinery, that though fueled by us, is always working against us. At the same time, it is also a story that speaks of emotions like guilt and regrets and how when devoid of action and attention, these emotions have the power to consume a person completely. 

The Biodata is more than a story. It’s a statement. Statement against social inequalities, social structures, and boundaries that humans create to divide humans and rule over them.

A Man Saves a Life is a bold attempt. A commentary against crumbling loneliness that kills from the inside. Man, no matter, how strong, needs company, needs support, and love, especially so in adverse times. The toughest of battles, the most challenging of situations can be won with the nurturing support of a loved one. But when the same man feels truly alone, life is devoid of such warmth. In such a scenario, when all hope is lost, can saving someone’s life also save our own? This is an essential question that the story poses and attempts to answer.

Three Stages of Alia is by far, the most underwhelming story of the lot. I guess, after reading such moving stories, this one did feel a tad shallow. Not a bad one by any means, simply a misfit outshined by the rest.

A Precious Gift reflects the dilemmas of many young couples these days. To have children or not, to have them early or to give them time, to divide the love or multiply it? But while a human may think, wonder, and plan. He can do just that. For mysterious are the ways of fate. A child, just like love, happens only when it is destined to happen, and in ways, it has been ordained to happen.

In the end

Sham, Drudgery, and a Beautiful World has stories that cover a wide spectrum of human emotions. Practical and emotional at the same time, they look at life with a purposeful detachment. These stories are written to make you think and reflect. For me, this book turned out to be a beautiful companion for an equally beautiful day. And that’s truly the best compliment I can give as a reader.

Can’t wait to read it? Buy your copy of Sham, Drudgery, and a Beautiful World using the link below.

While you are at it, also check out some of the short story collections that I have read and enjoyed in these past years – 

The Goat Thief by Perumal Murugan

Angaaray translated by Snehal Shingavi

The King’s Harvest by Chetan Raj Shreshta

The White Tiger and Other Stories by Ruskin Bond