Rajeshwar Singh ‘Raju’s latest collection of short stories JEEHB TLAIHATI GEYI (Highbrow Publications, Jammu, pages 151, price Rs.350) marks him out as a distinctive Dogrivoice. One would tend not to go entirely by his prefatory remark that readers get too absorbed in the story to feel the joy of living the life of the characters that the author has created.The fact is that in these times of a cacophony of distractions, which have reduced the span of attention to nano seconds, a reader won’t bother to go to the end of any story unless he or she connects with its characters.
Barring a few, all these stories dwell on sex. In TAPPESEYA (Austerity), a mother from a small townwillingly chooses to live away from her husband so as to keep an eye on her nubile daughter who the couple has sent to a prestigious college of a metropolitan city for higher studies. The end result is such as she had not bargained for. In AAUN SHEHRI (Me, an Urbanite!)Ravinder, a country lad from LahaulSpiti, Himachal Pradesh, finds to his dismay how city-dwellers have to compromise their honour for money. The malaise is not a consequence of the pressures of city life, the author seems to assert, even the rural folks are afflicted by it. In a matching story, ‘BUND’ (‘Sharing’), he convincingly portrays a family patriarch in a remote village who is prepared to go to extreme lengths to gain a perceived advantage; but is eventually stalled by his married son. In the same vein, Saurabh of BHAVIKKH DI SOCH (‘A Thought for Future’) realizes in good time that his ‘upparlykamaaee’ (easy money) as a court clerk might have silenced his older brother over his illicit relations with the sister-in-law, but the anchor of life for him is his ailing wife, Sanyogita, whom he has been ignoring for long. The short story APNA FARJ (‘Call of Duty’) holds a special place in the collection. Young Rupa, bought from a human trafficker and nurtured as a charming and accomplished woman by an elderly couple, has to give in to the demand of her master against her wishes. The narrative is presented in such a deft manner that it almost appears factual rather than a piece of fiction.
Happily, in Raju’s universe, women are not always at the receiving end. In delectable stories NIHALAP (‘The Wait’), MAU DI MAMTA (‘Motherliness’), HIKKHI (‘Love’) and FARJ CHETA AAYI GEYA (‘Waking up to Duty’), the women protagonists Palak, Sharda, Gita, and Preeti in particular, assert themselves as strong, mature and committed individuals, before whom their men appear such hapless travesties. In PUBLICITY, the deceptively guileless, 18-year old Sapna, by implicating a bigwig in a sting operation,gains the kind of publicity overnight that her older sister has not been able to manage in all her years of a well-knownmedia figure.
FARK (‘Discrimination’), KHABREIN DA KHADARI (‘Purveyor of Rumours’) and the eponymous JEEHB TLAIHATI GEYI (‘Slip of Tongue’) are stories on different themes. In FARK, Jagdeesh, an office peon, is at a loss to know why Madam Saanvli has snubbed him for trying to socialize with her outside the office while at the same time she playfully admonishes a colleague of hers for not having come to her home. The other two stories satirize those of the office-workers who cannot help spreading tales.
The stories in the collection are short and crisp. Sex-related they are, but not salacious. The language is simple and unostentatious, with a good smattering of Hindi words. Raju, a bank manager by profession, shuns literary devices such as similes and metaphors. ‘Say what has to be said’ seems to be his style.
The attractive cover-page and the title raised expectations of it being a book of humour. The book fails to meet such expectations. Though a couple of stories do have a touch of satire, there could have been more of it.
The names of the woman characters are pan-Indian rather than common ones one hears in Jammu, but this could well be the author’s device to give the collectiona pan-Indian feel. The metropolis of Mumbai figures repeatedly in almost all the stories, which is rather jarring, as if all those hopefuls in search of job or fame have only one place to go – Mumbai. Forget the pollution-ridden Delhi-NCR. Are not there other mega-cities in Mera Bharat Mahan that provide employment and prospects to innumerable aspirants from provincial towns? The author’s lack of knowledge about Army’s promotion policy spoils the story IK HOR SAATHI (‘One More Companion’). A young man joining the force as a lieutenant becomes a captain in just three years. He does not have to be aged Captain Sangra of the story.
These glitches aside, JEEHB TLAIHATI GEYI is an immensely readable story-book.