The nine short stories cover almost 60 years during which Indian society went through various transformations that changed attitudes, values, social ethos and lifestyles. And Uma Vasudev, famous for her biography of Indira Gandhi, plays with words to weave the imagery of one being at the centre of her tales.
Take the case of Girdhari. He was brought up in a puritanical family. He must not ogle at girls, he must treat them as sisters, so all girls were bahenjis. When he gets married he must remember that sex is for procreation, not passion. So he translated passion for sex into passion for procreation, for which he was duty-bound He produced eight children but never kissed his wife.
Until one day passion got better of him and he prepared excitedly to visit red light area and make a ‘ night of it’. The burst of passion swept away the puritanical restrictions and the warped interpretation of morality.
This story in the collection ‘Tales from a broken era’ by Uma brings out her forte of spinning words, in the manner of Grace Metallious, whose world famous book Peyton Place, brought life in an American suburb to readers all over the world.
Likewise Uma Vasudev, spins the story of Girdhari which reflects the Indian attitude towards sex in the lower middle class in Talukas and district towns. The stress in the story on freezing passion for sex to glacial proportions could not be understood by the West, yet the story was published in Short Story International in New York. They wrote to Uma Vasudev that basics don’t change, that is why the story was published in New York.
True basics don’t change. We become aware of this as we read stories in the book. They are based on collection of notes Uma, whom I have known for 25 years, jotted down while visiting villages, district towns and cities where she went with her husband when he was a Collector.
The last story and the longest Uma Vasudev, writer, author, columnist, for almost 35 years and famous for her biography of Indira Gandhi, the second edition of which was recently published; a remarkable insight of Indira, the person and the politician, the mother and mother-in-law, shows again her flair in juggling words and telling stories which grip and at the end make the reader feel he had been part of the whole drama.
The effect is very much like Peyton Place by Grace Metalious. While reading Girdhari tale, The Shy and the Guilty or If he does not say who he is…..I felt I was there and knew everything Girdhari did, I had a chilling feeling while reading the second one that I was in the midst of frenzied mobs running after their quarry just because he was of a different faith. Gurmeets Party is just like we have attended in hundreds, the high and mighty mixing condescendingly with the hoi-polloi. The guests included a mix of socialites, vixens and men with straying eyes. Well written, but it leaves the feeling Uma did not disclose fully.
The text form of narration turns into a live drama. When one finishes reading the book one tries to reflect on them and only thing that emerges is that basic nature does not change.
Why did she say from a Broken Era—because a few are from the past, while others from the transitory phase, when the past is past but the present has yet to firm up. The stories, as I said earlier, are gripping, but then make one sit and reflect on mysteries of life. Miracles too! For Uma, in these tales, “Memories vie with facts feelings with the enormity of pain, views of morality that span an age of contradictions….”
by Vijay Dutt