Iattended a meet of storywriters of India in Lucknow. It was chaired by the eminent writer Late Shrilal Shukla, known for his satires, famous for Raag Darbari, Bisram ka Sant, Ghaati ka Suraj etc. It was discussed there as to why the writers kill or injure the children in their stories, when their innocence is their wisdom, their simplicity is being without any ego and their freshness refreshes our consciousness. After discussion, most of the writers agreed that their quill shall, henceforth, not harm their child characters, if the story could avoid it. When I was reading the stories in Jalpash (Water-Snare) by Mridula Srivastava costing Rs 350 only and published by Aman Prakashan, Kanpur, I had the same unrest that had disturbed the writers at Lucknow. In her story ‘Khilonewala’, Banni, a 12-year-old innocent girl was killed; in ‘Peeli Hinaayi’, Hinayee, a child was gang-raped and killed; in PK 2 ki lorein, Sunia dies of jaundice and in Jalpash, Palku was lifted away by a wolf.
The remaining stories, too, have been weaved around the deaths of adults. The father dies of brain haemorrhage in Soorakh; ‘Khirkian Band Kyon Hain’ revolves around the death of Nisha, wife of the protagonist; Hello Doctor is based on female child foeticide and Pushback on the death of Methala, alias Kaku.
I have no grudges against Mridula because she is using an established literary device that causes pity and sadness in the readers and through that tries to send her message across. Pathos always brings in emotions to gain readers’ sympathy. I, however, doff my hat to Mridula for giving us different settings for each story in the book. Setting has two broad elements – place and time. The place on which a writer sets his scenes contributes a lot to the mood and tone of the story. It is said that a writer should develop the place as if he or she is developing a character. Mridula has done it with perfection. I take two examples from the present book. The first one is Jalpash. The barrage is being built and the water is gradually spreading to devour one house after the other in the village; the day comes when the house of the protagonist comes under the noose of the rising water. His father resting on the cot, waiting to unearth the 150 coins that he had dug in the courtyard of the house, flows in the cot with the gush of water. Chagnu, the main character, says, “Vikas ke naaam par is tarah ke banaye bandhon ke paani ke neeche hote hain kisi ke sapne, sunahla sansaar, kilkaari bharta uska ghar, parivaar aur us se bhi zyada eent, bajari, rete se banin ghar ki deewarein, uska khansta baapu aur andhi maa, yaani uski poori duniya.” (Under the waters of this type of barrages made in the name of development, there are drowned somebody’s dreams, his golden world, once upon a time house, the walls of the house made of bricks and mortar, his coughing father, blind mother; in other words, his entire world.) The setting of the house of Japla in ‘Khilonewala’ states: “Cheh by aath size ke is bina khirki wale kothrinuma kamare ke band darwaaze jis lambi sankri gali mein khulte the woh daayin ore mudte hue seedhe seedhe Ajmeri Gate ke churaahe par nikalti hai.” (The doors of the windowless 6 by 8 size cell open on a long but narrow alley that goes direct to the square of Ajmeri Gate.) If, in Jalpash, the setting is dark and eerie with waters everywhere that create a sense of danger or mystery, then in Khilonewala the description of the room itself forecasts an untoward incident. Mridula has used different ambience for her different stories. Dialogues are very useful tool in any story and the author uses that tool effectively so that the stories are dynamic and lively. Her stories do not appear to be static and there is movement in those.
Mridula confesses in ‘My Talk’, given at the beginning of the book, that her short stories are not actually short. I agree with it and want to say that she has so much to tell that she pulls her stories from climax to anti-climax and wants to make everything clear to the readers. Whereas, I believe, that a story should leave the readers with some unanswered questions; the answers are to be discovered by the reader according to his understanding. Why the author had still to add when Kaku had damaged his passport in Pushback? Jalpash had ended when the Seth confessed that he had been selling fake coins to the father of Chagnu. But this is possible only when a writer is cruel to himself – cruel to drop what he likes to write but safeguarding himself from the cruelty, he writes.
It appears that Mridula has penchant for stories where Pakistanis cross the border unintentionally and tortured in India. Pandori, in the first anthology and Pushback in the second one depicts it