The Patna Manual of Style by Siddharth Chowdhury was a gift from a friend. The title intrigued me, there was no blurb to draw me into the book. I still chose it to be my first hardcopy read for 2016 because I was in a mood to read something new, something different.
I loved The Importer of Blondes, the first story of this short story collection, which had the perfect mix of dialogues, descriptions, mood and ending. This built up in me great expectations for the rest of the collection. The collection is interlinked by the character of Hriday Thakur, a typical Delhi literary elite, a storyteller, a copy-editor/copy writer struggling to make ends meet, and one who likes his alcohol and women.
As I read further, the well-told stories fizzled out towards the ending without a strong climax. Death of a Proofreader held a lot of promise, but again the ending dissatisfied me. Tipple Cake was all right. The title story was touching. Goat-Getting made no sense to me. The Changing of the Guard felt incomplete. Damsel in Distress was interesting. Sophia Loren could have been better. I have no idea why Autobiography was sandwiched in between.
However, while I was dissatisfied with the ending of the stories, I loved the author's style. His writing captures moments, and paints distinct Delhi-life images. There's poignancy in the narration, the one which makes you feel like you're sailing in a cruise by a solitary, beautiful island with this book in hand and a glass of a soothing cocktail on the table next to you.
Hriday Thakur seemed quite obviously modelled after the author himself. I have a bone to pick with that idea. As long as the narration was first person by Hriday or even a third person by him, I could relate to the stories. However, when a third person spoke about Hriday and either glorified or mocked him, it seemed pretty obvious that the author was indulging in a bit of self-pimping. Being a small-time writer myself, I recognise that urge to write about myself in third person because I think I am awesome in some way or funny or self-deprecatory or had some foibles worthy of note. "Since no one will do it, I must, and I must immortalise myself," I think.
On another note, the references to classics, great music and Delhi University culturalisms brought in a unique intertextuality to the collection.