This is a collection of 12 short stories, each of which succeeds in catching the attention of the reader, though the best in the lot is ?The Japanese Wife?. This is the first story presenting a very touching saga of Snehamoy Chakrobarti, a school teacher at Shonai, a village ?in faraway Kolkata?. Though mastermoshai to his students who behind his back describe him as ?the one with the Japanese wife?. That he had married a Japanese girl on return from Kolkata was an open secret. For 20 years he had waited for his mail which came ?in duty mailbags, jostling with peasants?.
Called Miyage, the Japanese girl was his pen-friend and both exchanged notes about each other. He wrote of his anger towards Matla ?for flooding their village and devouring his parents; of its treacherous churns; the stink of floating carcasses.? She wrote about her own river Nakanokuchi and he wrote of his Matla after the monsoon, ?all swollen and calm?reflecting the bamboo groves like raging spears; of his passion for gazing at idle boats dotting the mudflats and the yearly pageantry of fishermen celebrating the gift of the river.?
Meanwhile his aunt, who had brought up Snehamoy, provides shelter to a young widow and her son and wants him to marry her. Snehamoy goes to school and daily cycles back home with hope of receiving Miyage'smail. During her depression following her mother'sdeath, he reads Miyage's?dark and brooding letter tinged with self-pity? and her scribbles ?wait for me? in the end I?ll come to you floating down this river?, thus establishing a lasting bond. Like a married man he daily rushes home, anticipating her letters just as a wife waits for her husband'sreturn. One day he decides to marry the widow his aunt wants him to marry but his longing for a letter from Miyage continues. Her mail comes telling him that ?when you set your eyes on this, I will be no more?? Soon afterwards Snehamoy dies of malaria. His widow, with her head tonsured and wearing a white saree returns to the house of the teacher, the one with the Japanese wife.
Another interesting story is ?Long Live Imelda Marcos?, in which the protagonist couple have a maid Mary who does everything in the house?cooking, cleaning, dusting, ironing and ?even nursing the lost-cause houseplants to life?. She dresses primly even in the kitchen. She falls in love with an Indian Yusuf from Sabarkantha in Gujarat. One day, he leaves to visit his home in India. Meanwhile the protagonist and his wife become very close to Mary and start treating her as their daughter, but despite the fondness that has grown quite ardent, it is impossible for them to become true friends?share her deepest feelings, her pain and her dreams. ?It was as if there we lived under the same roof, but as employer and employee??a truth that none in the world could erase. One day, while watching the television, they see news clippings of riots taking place in Sabarkantha where ?not a single home had been spared by the killers, not a family remained?? Mary standing behind watches it all.
Some of the stories are rather touching and succeed in holding the reader'sattention.
(Harper Collins Publishers India, A-53 Sector 57, Noida, U.P.-201301.)