Book Review: 'The Second Wife & other stories' subtle tales in unpretentious prose touch heart

The Second Wife & Other Stories offers solid second thoughts about not all scholars being deadly zzzzzzzz types. Some like Sen, can actually even provide wake-up calls!

Book Review: 'The Second Wife & other stories'  subtle tales in unpretentious prose touch heart
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Monojit Lahiri

The short story, traditionally, is described and consumed as fictional prose that is shorter than a novel and usually deals with a limited set of characters with the intent of evoking an effect or mood. A classic case of less is more. Character, setting, theme, conflict, plot, tone, style and exposition remain the basic elements that go to constitute a memorable short story.

Among some of the eminent writers in this space, are Maheshwata Devi, Ismat Chugtai, Kamala Das, Quaratulin Hyder, Indira Goswami, Shashi Deshpande, Anita Desai, Jhumpa Lahiri ... One school of thought suggests that the short stories are popular because they are like TV shows to novels which are like movies! They are quick-reads, can be packed in a short period of time, portable and like consumer perishables can be purchased, consumed and dispensed with! In our fast-paced life with a signature tune of mota bol, seedha bol, jaldi bol, the short story is exactly what the fast-food the doctor ordered. Fabulous style or deep, heavy, philosophical insights are out. Good, solid, story-telling on themes that resonate [ideally] on a universal, human level in a language that doesn’t force you to keep a Thesaurus/Dictionary next to you works best. Whether a particular collection of short stories will enjoy a pride of place in one’s library or remain just a quick, one-time read depends solely on the chemistry shared between the eye and the page – an indefinable communion that is both intensely private and sacred...

It is both possible and probable that, to the casual reader, Sen’s background could be a solid oooops! Why? Simply because men/women of letters coming into the world of fiction are often viewed with suspicion and perceived as OMG guys all set to give gyaan and get into heavies about the human condition etc. In one word: Boring!

Nandini Sen’s book, however, is likely to come as a delightful surprise! She clearly belongs to the breed of writers passionately committed to touch her reader’s chord with her word-pictures that engage, entertain, enrich and even empower. Scripted in simple unpretentious prose, it’s a collection of tales that deal with primal and relatable emotions – of love, longing and loss; of people moulded but not mastered by circumstances; of championing the triumph of the human spirit; of journeys that cross over from the ordinary to the extraordinary, fear to outrage, suffering, to retribution; Of inner cities and the psychedelic chaos of its streets; Of undreamt narratives that refine one’s vision and strengthens one’s resolve to fight and win against all odds ... all in a language that is simple, warm and all-embracing.


In an age where social media has converted everyone into writers, rag-chewing and hack-writing seems to be the flavour of the day. It is precisely here that the writer must take it upon herself to preserve the integrity of the written word. This means abandoning the temptation to run her native tongue of clichés, metaphors and populist mush and gently guide her reader to look at the world & its inner life with new eyes. My favourite stories in this wonderful book are the ones where a boy applies lipstick on his lips; a woman’s cathartic connect with her husband’s love child; a woman’s call in following the voice from within and vanish from her family; the fascinating impact of a grandmother on her mother and herself long after the battles are over ...

Do pick it up. The Second Wife & Other Stories offers solid second thoughts about not all scholars being deadly zzzzzzzz types. Some like Sen, can actually even provide wake-up calls!!

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