This is a set of longish short stories by new author Uday Gupt.
In Hodson’s Gold, a quest for the legacy of one of the most colourful characters of the Indian Mutiny of 1857 leads, via a poem in code and a coded poem, straight to a thoroughly startling address in Delhi.
Two boys grow up in the 1990’s and 2000’s in Bishnupur, West Bengal, and Kolkata, in Friends, and their growing up years trigger an international sensation when revealed.
Shooting for an improbable 4th Pulitzer Prize, a three-time winner arrives in Kolkata’s Red Light district to discover, even more improbably, that It Happens Only in India.
After setting up a roaringly successful business, and after thirty seven years, Will Reena?, readers are asked, in the only short novella in the collection.
It turns out, in The Last Supper, that the human models for a painting done over two hundred years ago in Kolkata were keepers of wholly unexpected secrets.
On a Buddha Purnima day, the holiest day in the Buddhist calendar, a miracle occurs in Sarnath near Varanasi.
And finally comes the title story Final Cut that mixes magic, religion and celebrities to create a potent situation
What’s Unusual and Interesting About This Book?
As you can make out from the synopsis above, this book is really quite different from most others I read this year. Most of the stories are set in modern times but have very strong roots in the past. I like this approach that the author has taken because it gives a wonderful sense of how things come to be.
For example, the story of Hodson’s Gold is primarily set in the present, but strongly connected with the Indian Mutiny of 1857. Similarly, Friends is a modern story too, but its roots are set in the Naxalite movement of the late 60s. I love how the author brings out this connection between past and present in these stories.
I also love that most of these stories are primarily Indian stories that deal with almost entirely Indian issues. In this age of increasingly global settings, it makes a refreshing change to find something so deeply rooted in time and place, but still modern in tone.
There is also enough variation in theme and setting making each story a pleasant surprise. The settings vary from rural West Bengal to Kolkata to Old Delhi to Varanasi. The time periods are also a surprise. Most of the stories are set in the late 90s to 2000s, but in between we have a Buddha Purnima, which is set sometime after the fall of the Maurya dynasty.
How’s the Writing? What about the Stories?
The writing is pretty good. One thing I realized is Uday Gupt is incredibly strong at starting sentences. All the stories in the book start out very strong. See a couple of examples I have cited here to showcase his writing.
I do feel though that the stories by and large tend to sag in the middle. These stories could have been edited a bit to make them more taut.
As an example, I cite Buddha Purnima. It has an amazing start, and the ending is great too. There was just a random section thrown in between about the Satavahanas that ultimately had no relation to the actual story. Cutting out this section and focusing more on the tantricism would have made what is admittedly a good story, much better. A similar comment can be made on the Will Reena? novella, which is again good, but really didn’t need to be this long.
My favorite stories of the lot were Hodson’s Gold, Friends, and Final Cut which were all awesome and more important stuck to the main story without getting drawn into side issues or too much world-building.
Overall this is an interesting read, well-written, and promising debut by the author Uday Gupt and I look forward to more such books by him.
Thanks to the publicist for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.