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Book Review: Parting of the Strangers and Other Stories by Sattam Dasgupta

How do you test the brilliance of an author, especially new one? By reading a lengthy novel or an anthology? If we had to do this, we would pick up a collection of short stories. Because in a novel an author gets plenty of time to build, to rake-up, to dredge-up and play around the characters. However, in the matter of short stories one has to build the backdrop, describe the characters along with their peculiarities and eccentricities, and then narrate a tale that should sound exactly riveting, that too all within a limited time frame. Isn’t a challenging proposition? If we had to consider these many aspects, we would not shy away to say that Sattam Dasgupta is another natural born storyteller. Recently he published his first book, Parting of the Strangers and Other Stories - a collection of sixteen short stories.

Many of his stories emanate from the Indian society that we often come across in neighborhood, social gathering, and at times in pub or bar. Combined all we found them all convincingly impressive and every story left us reeling with a feeling of wanting to know more. The prominent aspect of this collection is to scrutinize the dynamics that alter the dimensions of human relationships. Before picking up this collection, you may ask yourself that why do human relations change, for what reasons? And you may find almost all reasons here.

The first story – Receding Shoreline – is about a couple, married for seven years. They are waiting for a friend named Sinjan at a dinner in a ritzy restaurant. When their friend turns up, the spirit of having a simple dinner together turns into strange shock. Akansha, the narrator’s wife, takes the side of Sinjan to enjoy the precious asset of her life: freedom. The couple is poles apart when it comes to preferences and way of life but they are together for seven years. Can a prosaic engineer keep his wife happy and free who happens to come from a creative marketing professional? Find yourself.

The second story that we see is crisp on relationship angle, Swaha and the narrator are friends for a long time. When they met, they were young and headstrong for their careers. They got married to different persons and hold different family lives; still remain friends from corporate offices to personal corridors. They, as both families, meet often, party together, and even go for vacations. Well, the day Swaha breaks news of her pregnancy, a dark and silent realization dawns upon both. Were they meant for each other, if so, then why didn’t they marry? It’s really tough to find a meaning from the wreckage of the past. In this story, it is little tough to decipher the hidden reason.

The third story is the title story: Parting of the Strangers. This is the most fascinating story in the entire collection. The author has balanced this story with a marvelous élan and truly explored ‘what is being a stranger’. In the maddening traffic of Bangalore, every evening the narrator looks forward to find a familiar red car to exchange eye contact and have a silent conversation with a young lady whom he calls, in his mind, Nayna because her eyes are beautiful. They feel connected but remain strangers.

Other than stand-alone stories, you will also come across interconnected stories with similar sets of characters. For instance, we have Gedanken Experiment, Continental Spread, Green Tea in Bone China, these stories feature Rahul, Aditi and Ria, and the stories are profoundly based on relationship i.e. how with time or circumstances people tend to change. Do people look for selfishness even in the deepest relationships? You may feel bad for Rahul as he first tests his relationship with his girlfriend Aditi through Gedanken Experiment and then we see he is caring about her sister Ria whose life has been changed completely post a car accident. In some of the stories, the author has put in great attention to detail for ambience and didn’t hesitate to include auxiliary characters like waiters in the storyline, for example in the first story we see Joseph and then in these three connected stories we have Venkat.

Other than human behavior and relationship stories, we also see some stories with paranormal twists, like Everyone Needs Closure, Flatliners, and No Time for a Joke. Without giving away much we can conclude that this collection is riveting.  Unexpected endings will keep you glued and fueled, specially the set of connected stories. A medley of sixteen intricate and befuddling stories. Gracefully knitted, well-presented, quick-reads, charming flow of writing. With a mélange of real-life inspired stories and fiction, they will leave you guessing.


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