The One Night Affair and Other Stories is a collection of gingerly penned literature nuggets of diversified genres spanning across thriller to suspense to romance and many more. The debutante author Madhulika Ra Chauhan presents you her short-stories powerhouse package with vibrant characters, freshly brewed storylines, and spellbinding climaxes. Madhulika’s characters are valiant yet vulnerable, emotional yet sensible, and romantic yet conscientious.
I got a chance to read this book this month. I wanted to share the gist of the book with you all and as it is extremely difficult to pick one to start with, I am going ahead with the order they appeared on the book.
The series starts with the story Benjarong. Priya takes the pride of being the protagonist of this very first story. She epitomizes all the women who live their life performing perfunctory routines. She craves for her previous lifestyle vicariously living the life of her high-profile friend circle. Her plight of mediocrity is evident in these beautiful sentences, “I looked down at my hands checking my nail paint. It had chipped off on several nails. The corners of the nails had a faint yellow hue; the turmeric had stubbornly stuck on them since morning. No matter how much I rubbed them, before leaving for Vimmy’s house, they stuck to me, mocking my middle class existence”. Her source of resentment is not only the lack of money, but the affection of her husband which was also lost along with their business’ impairment. Amidst Priya’s grievances, you keep getting the complementary doses of sarcasm, the tadkas of the story, from Vandanaji. Her witticism for her own life and her husband’s adultery “Why give the man a divorce so he can have it all, rather than make him suffer and stay with him like me.” keeps you hooked.
Will Priya’s financial status ever recover and moreover will she ever wins back her husband’s love? Is there any dark secret that Vimmy’s husband trying to hide behind his showering exorbitant gifts? Will Priya ever come to know the mystery behind Vimmy’s expensive Benjarong tea-sets that she so envied? Most importantly, will she ever understand that what visible on surface is not entirely true?
The train of stories moves ahead to the much awaited story, the title story One Night Affair. The search of a cellphone dooms Yashika to meet Arun. A dark rainy stormy night, a house lit only with a candle, a room filled with two gorgeous people; the story has everything set on its stage to take you to the sight of foreseen romance. But there is much more than that. The story proves to be electrifying and gratifying to your senses because of its detailing and conversations. Yashika’s embryonic infatuation can be effortlessly felt by her thoughts, “The soft glow of candle became brighter, as he entered the room from kitchen. The yellow light, kissing his face, made him look serene and handsome……..the trail flame of the candle danced liked a slender woman, too happy to be in his hand.” The story will make you read further and further until you reach the end and wonder why it finished so soon.
Will Yashika ever be able to forget that night? Will she ever talk about this mysterious affair to anyone or even to herself?
Once you are out of the clouds of one-night-affair, get ready to face the most emotional story of the series – Condolence. Meena, the protagonist and the strongest character in the book in my opinion, bravely hides the excruciating sorrow of her mother’s demise and keeps nothing but courageous smile on her facial display. How gutsy she must be to carry the pieces of her broken emotion and torn heart in her arms of strength.
Will anyone ever understand her feeling? Will her strength be rather perceived as disgrace and shameful which could not make her shed a drop of tears in those difficult times especially when people wanted a chance to console? Does she even need condolence at first place?
The next story Saalam awards you insight into the communal aspect of our society – the hindu-muslim equation. Ashmi, the lead of the story who happens to be a Hindu, gets shelter under the roof of a Muslim family who save her from deadly riot of the city. Ashmi’s prejudices come alive in sentences like “All my life, I had not shared food even with a Hindu friend, leave alone eating at a Muslim’s place” are the stark dictations of her sheer abhorrence towards Muslims. What happens when she finds her life under Ahmed’s knife and his vengeance, “we have been staying here in this country, this is our home, still we are considered outsiders, all because of these bloody Hindus. Let me finish her.”
Will her attitude towards them ever change? Will she ever be able to see that the Muslim family was the one whom she owes her life?
Here comes the story, Marrutivacci – The Life Giver, which is my most favorite story in the book. The protagonist’s affection for her job and trust in her coworkers become the source of her despair and her resignation. She never understands why Krishnamma advised her, “Don’t be too attached girl, otherwise, you won’t be able to do justice to yourself.” Her delusion, that Dr. Sudha and the head nurse Krishnamma are the God-send life-savers, shatters when she finds herself amidst a game of life, death, and the marrutivacci trilogy.
Could she have done something to save the child? Should she have kept herself bit emotionally detached from her job?
Moving ahead, the story Rupa brings a strong feeling of affection and motherhood. The story is about the bonding between a 3-year old girl, the lead character Rupa, and a mid-twenty aged woman Seema who sees Rupa as her lost unborn child. Seema, separated from her husband due to her own guilt of abandoning her child in her womb itself and unable to add any more noise to the deafening silence in her marital life, finds solace in the innocent company of Rupa. What happens when Seema receives the news of Rupa’s departure from the neighborhood? Will this pious relation also come to an end like all other relationships of her? The climax of the story is worth noting. Keep reading!!
The last story The Chemistry Book will definitely send a chill to your spine. This story makes you love and hate the lead characters at the same time. The description of tough life of the soldiers will make you thank God for blessing you a comfortable life and comparatively easier job. “Despite the biting cold, I pulled open the zip of my jacket to take out Pallavi’s picture from my chest pocket. I held it out for him to look at it and envy my prized possession. I could have given anything right now to be at her side, holding the softness of her body in a tight embrace.” This sentence will melt your heart that how granted we take life’s trivial coziness. The efforts and situations our soldiers go through are priceless. But your sympathy soon may turn into resentment when you find them snatching a civilian’s life instead of a terrorist’s, though unintentionally. Your resentment will turn into tears once you read the letter recovered from victim, “I opened the envelop to find a picture of the man, now lying dead, along with what looked like his wife and child in happier times. His face had a glow of happiness as he stood being photographed with his family. The child had his arms wound around his father’s neck for support. Both the father and the child looked content. I flipped the picture over “Come back soon – I love you, papa!” The all caps letter stared back at me. The handwriting was crooked like a child who had only recently learnt to spell and write……..I swallowed my spit in my already dry throat. His papa was never coming back.”
How do soldiers feel when they come to know that they have killed an innocent person? What will Captain and Major Rathor feel? Will they ever come out of their guilt?
And the series of stories come to an end. I bet you won’t be able to put down the book until you finish all the stories.
I wish Madhulika keep giving us more and more such enchanting stories. Good luck!
Shweta Kumari Sharma
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