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Book Review: Iswaran the Storyteller by R. K. Laxman

‘Iswaran the Storyteller’ is a short story written by R. K. Laxman. The story features two important characters: Mahendra and his cook Iswaran. Iswaran is an avid reader, thus he is also a great storyteller. He has a unique way of narrating incidents and anecdotes.

Mahendra works for a supervising firm. He is a junior supervisor there. His job is to move from one construction site to another, like coal mining, railway brides, office buildings and so on. Recently, he has been told to shift to a site where a chemical company is to be built. Because of a moving job, from one site to another, Mahendra has used to the ways of life and expects no good form of luxury in his life. He lives in shacks or small huts, well above all this he has a fixed cook with him always, and he is none other than Iswaran.

Iswaran is quite a talented person when it comes to finding vegetables and ingredients out of nowhere. Also, he is a wonderful cook. After Mahendra leaves for work, Iswaran cleans the living place (shanties or huts) and takes bath and then indulges into reading. Since they are mostly into on-field jobs, they cannot have access to TV. Nevertheless, Iswaran’s story telling fills the absence of having a TV.

Mahendra listens to his stories regardless of their credibility. One day Iswaran narrates a story about an elephant that went berserk, that time Iswaran was a student, and when the elephant entered the school premises, it was Iswaran who sent the beast into a state of numbness by hitting a plank. Upon asking how he did that, Iswaran replies that he used a Karate technique to bring down that elephant down.

One morning Iswaran asks Mahendra if he can cook something special for dinner. According to tradition they must prepare various delicacies to feed the spirits of their ancestors. At night, Mahendra feels replete after having the dinner and appreciates Iswaran on his cooking skills. At this time, Iswaran informs Mahendra that once this site was a burial ground. And Iswaran has seen human skulls while traversing through the path. He also states that this place is haunted and he has seen a female ghost with a foetus in her hands. Mahendra doesn’t believe his stories and tells him not to believe in all this stuff.

But inside his heart, Mahendra starts feeling uneasy, and every night he gets into his bed with some strange nervousness. One night Mahendra wakes up from his sleep after hearing a low moan close to his window. First he thought that it’s a cat but the sound was so guttural and it couldn’t be of a cat’s. He decides not to look outside lest he gets heart-attack. But curiosity gets better of him, and when he sees out from the window, he freezes at the sight: a dark cloudy figure clutching a bundle. He doesn’t believe himself and mutters that it could be something like illusion getting created at the back of his mind.

In the morning, Iswaran reminds him of the previous night’s moaning and asserts that this place/site is haunted. Mahendra believes him, and afterwards in the office he hands down his papers to leave this haunted place.

Well, after reading this story, you may think that it is a horror story. But in real it is mix of both – horror and superstitious beliefs that we feed into our brain.


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