Intimate Pretence by Paramita Satpathy
Paramita writes in Oriya. She has won Sahitya Academy award for her writings. In her other avatar, she is an Indian Revenue Services officer. I met her at Publishing next conference in Goa. That is when she gifted me her book of short stories that she has herself translated from Oriya to English. I am so glad that I read this book Intimate Pretence. I do not remember reading such intense stories from a contemporary Indian author, who is so rooted in her own cultural ethos and yet is so liberated in her thought process.
Her stories on hunger and what it can do to you, are heart-wrenching. She makes you go through the mind of a hungry person. What he goes through when there is nothing in the stomach. The portrayal of an old woman and a young boy in two different stories tell a story of hunger that may be very representative of the hunger that exists in our society. And the way it justifies where they are led by it. Her story of a mother who gets the news of her soldier son being killed in Kargil war tears you apart as a reader. And you question the need for such wars.
The way the mother remembers the life of her son from the time she conceived him and the way his body came back to her mutilated and packed in a sack brings tears. And you want to go and hug every mother who has lost her son to wars. The way the mother conveys that the son who lies in a coffin is the same son whom she would not allow to have a small scratch on the body. She goes through all the bad omens in his life that indicated this evil end. And wonders if she should have done something about it.
There are stories that explore strange human relationships. Like a relationship between a mother-in-law and daughter-in-law who share a camaraderie as women from different generations that goes beyond their traditional roles. There is a story of a girl who takes shelter in the house of a stranger and falls in love with him when he behaves himself despite the odd circumstances. And there are intense love stories where the lovers connect beyond the physical realm or beyond their circumstances. There is a story of a man who falls in love with the first prostitute he meets. And gets rejected by her for the same reason ironically. The irony of relationships is another forte of Paramita. She is able to capture the irony from a neutral point of view, where you can see both sides of the coin and understand both of them.
Most of her stories are based in Orissa. They kind of introduce you to the place, a place not well captured in popular literature. She also uses some local customs, myths, and games to create the ethnic ambiance. Her works are so much rooted in her surroundings that you almost get a flavor of the place. It makes me want to read more of Oriya stories.
Read the book Intimate Pretence.