Dubai Diaries: The world of short stories
The appeal of short stories, even with their very limited time-frame and wordage, is undeniable.
A few days ago, I watched Bahrupiya, a short film just under an hour long, part of the Ray anthology recently released on Netflix. Based on acclaimed filmmaker and author Satyajit Ray’s short story Bahuroopi (Impersonator), the film is a dark adaptation by director Srijit Mukherji.
While Bahrupiya completely absorbed me and I will continue to dwell on its many layers and lead actor Kay Kay Menon’s nuanced performance for days to come, it also got me thinking about short stories in general and how their appeal, even with a very limited time-frame and wordage, is undeniable.
One that stayed with me for years after I first read it is Ruskin Bond’s The Blue Umbrella, in which a pretty umbrella gifted to a village girl by a foreign tourist inspires admiration as well as jealousy. One of my favourite authors, it is Bond’s gift as a storyteller that brings this simple tale set in the mountainous Indian region of Garwhal to life. While the drama around the blue umbrella occupies much of your attention, you may just be distracted by birdsong or balmy mountain air. I often find myself transported to the hill-stations of North India upon reading Bond’s stories even though I have yet to visit them in person.
While The Blue Umbrella is a light and breezy read, a short story which was both disturbing and profoundly moving is The Fog Horn, initially published in 1951. Having read it first in my high school textbook, I was jolted as a teenager by this haunting tale of two lighthouse workers who encounter a strange, gigantic sea-creature that responds to the wailing sound of their tower’s fog horn. But what will happen when the horn is switched off? Themes of loneliness and isolation are explored in this unforgettable short story by American science fiction writer Ray Bradbury, many of whose works have been adapted into films.
Another favourite is The Little Match Girl by Danish author Hans Christian Anderson, a heart-warming fairytale that has enchanted and saddened me in equal measure every time I have read it. As a child I was captivated by this story of an impoverished young girl who sells matches for a living; on New Year’s Eve, a time of festivity and indulgence, she is ignored on the streets and left to suffer in the biting cold. However, she takes comfort in the wonderful things she sees every time she lights one of her matches to keep herself warm.
These are just three of the many short stories that have struck a chord with me over the years that I have been a book-lover. Revisiting old favourites evokes mixed emotions and almost always throws up a new element in the writing that I wouldn’t have noticed earlier. Isn’t that one of the great joys of reading?
Other authors in the genre I greatly admire are Anton Chekhov, Saki (H.H. Munro), Edgar Allan Poe, Haruki Murakami and Alice Munro. I remain in awe of the talent such writers have to paint a big and impressively engaging picture with limited words.