I have a special connect with short stories. From Jhumpa Lahiri to Haruki Murakami, from Alice Munro to Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I devour short stories from my favorite authors with an enthusiasm and delight that I used to reserve for those mango ice lollies, that my siblings and I secretly enjoyed during the summer vacations of our childhood.
Museum of Memories by Amrita Mukherjee is a collection of short stories that reminded me of these words by Neil Gaiman,
“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
― Neil Gaiman
This book provides a glimpse of other people’s lives and the settings are as diverse as a dreamy cottage in Goa to a brothel in Kolkata. The lives lived by these people are also diverse and yet, the emotions portrayed are so palpable and real that no matter how different their lives are from yours the author makes you feel what they go through. I think that’s what I liked most about the book.
The characters in these stories come from widely different backgrounds and some of the topics that the stories deal with, are extremely pertinent and will make you ponder upon long after you’ve finished the book.
There is a mother who had been sold into the flesh trade and then years later, one day her son comes to rescue her; there is a brother who hates his sister for committing suicide; there is a surrogate mother who feels helpless when she has to give up on her baby; there is a woman who is tormented by her interfering mother-in-law until one day when she decides to walk out; there is brother who haplessly watches as his father sells his sister to get money for his mother’s treatment; there is a boy who is promised of a better future and taken away from his village just to be turned into a household help; there is a Hindu girl who marries a Muslim boy against the wish of her family; there is a woman who is jealous of her old friend after seeing her ‘happening’ life on social media; there is a little boy who is in love with a grown woman; there is a girl who feels attracted to a boy for his kindness only to be annoyed by this trait of his later on; there is a woman who seems ironically trapped after gaining financial independence; there is a man who shows how we can unknowingly help or harm our lives through innocuous chats with strangers; there is an army officer who falls in love with a co-passenger at their very first encounter.
Since this is a collection of multiple stories, obviously I liked some more than the others.
It Happened One Day deals with the pathetic life conditions of tea estate workers and this was the story I liked best. Despite the poverty and all the misfortune that befalls the protagonist, the pure, emotional connect that he shared with his sister was something that brought tears to my eyes. The last lines were so beautifully crafted that they stayed with me long after I finished reading it.
My yet another favourite, Museum of Memories also dealt with the relationship between a brother and a sister and I remember being transported to that small cottage by the sea in Goa where the sister strummed the guitar, while in reality, I was stuck in a traffic jam and surrounded by blaring horns!
Then there was Love at First Sight which wasn’t only adorable and heartwarming but it also carried a beautiful message alongside.
Going Home was a heartwrenchingly sad story and I truly felt like someone physically hurt me when it ended. The cruelty of fate shook me to the core.
Metro Ride was a love story with an unconventional character and I loved how the author had played with the unpredictability of the human mind in such a clever way, like how sometimes we might become too tired even of our dear ones’ positive traits.
From Good to Worse aptly portrayed life’s ironies. How a girl from a conservative family, finally finds independence after marriage but how in reality that too turned out to be a trap which she could only break by heeding to a chance comment made by her traditional mother.
The Boy Who Wanted To Be A Doctor showed how life can be so strange at times. Though there wasn’t any similarity, somehow this story reminded me of R.K. Narayan’s short story, An Astrologer’s Day and I really enjoyed the essence of this story.
The House Husband was unpredictable and funny though I felt it would be a bit difficult to execute in real life.
To Cut A Long Story Short was a simple yet funny story that almost seemed like the premise for a romcom.
Some of the stories that I felt could have been better were:
The Perfect Life as the premise seemed a bit predictable for me.
The story Trapped and Saved seemed more like two pieces of microfiction to me rather than one seamless story.
Also, though I liked The Rising, I somehow missed the emotional turbulence within the story because of its brevity. I think it could dwell upon Sadiq and Aakshi’s life a little more.
Diary of a Surrogate Mother was woven beautifully showing the emotional upheavals that a surrogate mother might go through when she needed to part with her child. However, the ending seemed a bit unrealistic and forcefully positive.
Most of the stories in this collection have a certain tenderness to them, like when you place cotton candy on your tongue and its melts leaving behind a sweet after taste. This is a book that you’d love to devour on a rainy evening with a hot cuppa or a cold morning when you’re in dire need of a cozy read while you sip on that hot chocolate. You can read it in one sitting or you can carry it on your daily commute and forget the traffic as you dive into the worlds of one of its protagonists. This book shines in the simplicity of the language used and it had been a pleasure to read it. I’d definitely recommend you to pick it up and enjoy the different flavors of life that the author has so lovingly brewed in each of the stories.