Diary Jottings

by Susan Abraham

This morning, I woke a little too early. I was well rested but restless. I decided I would start on a new book of short stories.  Although I owned a small stack of novels in my suitcase,  I  had  made up my mind to read the scholarly Daniyal Mueenuddin‘s much-talked about and currently ‘regularly nominated’ book of 8 short stories – strange in a way as all the different tales link to a primary character in a setting – called In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.

I wrote on my Facebook wall today that this book felt densely aromatic and in true seductive fashion, possessed this desirable calming influence on my morning even as the dawn broke and the early sounds of traffic started to roar.
So soothing was the escapade that I caught something of a swift sensory whiff. I likened my spontaneous affair to the short luxury of a woman dabbing a touch of  cinnamon scent to a secret place.
Or what I meant to say was that the very act of reading can prove intimate without any sign of a conscious realization.Mueenuddin stayed by intuition,  an excellent choice. I am now halfway through and hope to finish the book tonight.
Notwithstanding the fact that I am a naturally fast reader, his tales revolving around servant and peasant life of a large landowning family is so picturesque that you catch the motley haphazard crowd of  characters everywhere…you may likely smell an aftershave or better still some pungent cow dung, catch the sound of running footsteps, breathe in tantalizing kitchen smells and so on.
His stories make for a black comedy. They’re semi-tragic. Vulnerabilities rule and for some reason, the rich, corrupt and cunning always win. Women are portrayed as powerless but shrewd, grabbing whatever they dare at the earliest opportunity. Men escape the painful consequences of weaknesses and flaws through the throes of insensitivity, duty and commitment. Mismatched love stories mingle with the comic foible of human behaviour patterns and suggest subtly of how dark shadows are perhaps more powerful than light.
For instance, when someone requests a favour, he gets it from a person  starting with an individual who may be related to a niece or nephew who goes on to marry someone else who once loaned someone something and who promised the onset of a favour….if you see where I’m getting at. This is so true of real life no matter all the ethical principles we memorise for the glory of a civic consciousness.
Of course, this isn’t a review at all. They are just rushed thoughts but how blessed I feel that Daniyal Mueenuddin gave me a glorious start to the day with all the intriguing secrets that jump out at the reader from In Other Rooms, Other Wonders.
Feb 25, 2010 Note: I finished reading the joyous In Other Rooms, Other Wonders last night. What was immediately apparent was of how the later stories which featured socialities accompanied by  their vague romances carried the sharply poignant air of Lahiri’s own stories. The narrations that were all deeply profound possessed a similar crystal-clear feel, so translucent were the fast-paced plots and introspections. I was startled finally to read at the back of the book that the novelist Nadeem Aslam had felt the same. In his praise,  he compared Mueenuddin to Lahiri.  I was naturally pleased as it showed that despite a long gap, I was still thankfully attuned to South Asian fiction.

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