No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories by Jayant Kaikini; Translated by Tejaswini Niranjana
Published by: Harper Perennial (Harper Collins India)
Fiction: Kannada literature, Translated Writing 240 pages
Rating: 4/5 stars
Jayant Kaikini’s compassionate gaze takes in the people in the corners of the city, the young woman yearning for love, the certified virgin who must be married off again, the older woman and her medicines; Tejaswini Niranjana’s translations bring the rhythms of Kannada into English with admirable efficiency.
No Presents Please: Mumbai Stories is not about what Mumbai is, but what it enables. Here is a city where two young people decide to elope and then start nursing dreams of different futures, where film posters start talking to each other, where epiphanies are found in keychains and thermos-flasks. From Irani cafes to chawls, old cinema houses to reform homes, Jayant Kaikini seeks out and illuminates moments of existential anxiety and of tenderness. In these sixteen stories, cracks in the curtains of the ordinary open up to possibilities that might not have existed, but for this city where the surreal meets the everyday.
About the author:
Jayanth Kaikini is a poet, short stories author and a lyricist working in Kannada cinema having published six anthologies of short stories, four books of poetry, three plays and a collection of essays. Kaikini received the Karnataka Sahitya Academy award for his first poetry collection at the age of nineteen in 1974. He has been awarded the Dinakara Desai award for his poetry, the B. H. Sridhar award for fiction, as well as the Katha National award and Rujuwathu trust fellowship for his creative writing.
I have this great love for looking out for Indian writing: I scroll through book listings on online stores frowning at the ‘popular’ titles and the authors who have fans gushing away. None of them ever tempt me (there are only a few Indian authors who excite me) for my sole attention is on people who have written in their languages and consistently at that. I found Jayant Kaikini’s ‘No Presents Please – Mumbai Stories’ grabbing my attention catching my attention when I read that the author had written on Mumbai in Kannada. It tickled my interest for I wanted to find out whether he was writing as an outsider/observer or with Mumbai as a setting. I found out that there were myriad layers in Kaikini’s writings.
The 16 short stories in this collection translated by Tejaswini Niranjana have only one common leitmotif: Mumbai, the city that never sleeps and which is boundless with so many people, so many thoughts that they shape the way your life and action goes. Kaikini’s writing is in the small details of the people and their stories that goes in directions that the reader never sees coming. I cannot single out one story as my favorite for I loved them all, each one renders human ties and humane failings and the possibilities of life stories and events just going on its own steam.
Scattered across the 16 stories are tales of the despair of lower rung workers over the small jobs they have; the negotiation of favours amongst friends and neighbours; domestic tiffs and frissions but above all of these nuances, it brings to readers Mumbai’s regular people with dignity and a bit of helplessness in the way their lives are pushed and pulled gently or otherwise by the sheer number of other people milling around them, each with a different dream and a different purpose.
I would recommend this book strongly for readers who are not looking at regular story narratives. This collection will work for readers who love to dwell on subtle layers and experience the subtle and sometimes deliberate gentle twists and turns a story and its characters can go into. It comes with a PS section where the writing style of the author has been discussed at length by the translator.
Jayant Kaikini’s ‘No Presents Please – Mumbai Stories’ has been shortlisted for the for the 2018 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. You can find more details about the book here on the Harper Collins India Site