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Annie Zaidi’s Love Stories #1 To 14 is an exploration of love, that looks beyond the superficialities of fairytale romances.
Review By Anjana Basu
Love is not a matter of two hearts beating in unison and lovers walking hand in hand into the sunset to live happily ever after. Most often, it is about heartbreak and misunderstandings, different takes on that wise old slogan, ‘There is one who loves and one who allows himself/herself to be loved.’
Annie Zaidi’s set of stories are a set of interior monologues – dramatic monologues we would call them, if we were considering them from a Robert Browning viewpoint; a person looking at life and sometimes stumbling on an attraction without being aware of it in different ways. A lonely woman, for example, falling in love with the voice of an announcer in a railway station and making train journey after train journey just to hear the voice. That is actually the opening story and is used to signal to the reader that Zaidi’s romances do not start with a ‘once upon a time’ in the accepted fashion.
Her narrators are sensitive people, not all women, some of them are artists and many of them are estranged from the world around them, especially from that one particular person who may or may not be a lover. Zaidi’s skill of observation is used to effect when one of her narrators looks at a baby gecko trying to swim in a bucket and thinks of the man she might or might not love – love after all is a complicated word. It implies being attached to someone with no room for external distractions.
Very often people are more in love with love than with the lover. In the 14 stories, Zaidi explores every aspect of this ‘not so brief’ madness through situations that could belong to any part of the country. All the stories are characterized by a deep sense of compassion, though their titles – hashtags, aka and all – offset the compassion with a modern quirkiness.
Most of the action is internal, because on the surface very little moves. There are walks in the park, stolen mufflers, geckos on the walls and in the bucket, or a hunt for medical reports. The stories are very much about mind over matter. Nor is sex a part of it, the emphasis being on the undercurrent of chemistry that if strong enough can be visible to an entire roomful of people.
The collection does credit to a writer who wants to be taken seriously. Annie Zaidi takes us on a voyage through the nature of love in modern, urban India. Occasionally one wonders how the protagonists are so omniscient that they can understand the thoughts going through people’s heads in the flash of an eye – and not necessarily the ‘two hearts beating as one’ kind of understanding. A man realizes his wife has returned because she is worried about her finances if she divorces him, a woman understands a retired army officer’s marital history perfectly without ever having been married or deeply involved herself. One could perhaps say that love was responsible for this percipient wisdom, but lovers are seldom that wise, as some of the stories themselves can testify.
Publishers: Harper Collins India.
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