“My stories are about people like you and me — our noble and ignoble emotions and impulses.” That is how journalist Shuma Raha described her debut book The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories, which was launched at the India International Centre in Delhi.
“These stories are about love, betrayal, envy, secret resentments, inner conflicts, disenchantment, snobbery … basically the emotions and feelings we experience in our dealings with people and situations. That apart, the stories are also a reflection of life in contemporary urban India and many of them touch upon social issues such as religious and class conflicts, bigotry, superstition, domestic violence and so on,” said Raha, who has worked in senior editorial roles at the The Telegraph and The Times of India.
Launched by senior journalist Mrinal Pande, retired bureaucrat Anita Agnihotri and National Weekend Editor of Hindustan Times Poonam Saxena, the book The Love Song of Maya K and Other Stories has many stories set in Kolkata, Raha’s home town, and the others are set in Delhi, where she now resides.
Commenting on the book, Mrinal Pande said that the stories were rather “slyly” written where things seem to be perfectly normal on the surface and then the reader finds out that there are undercurrents and secrets that were not apparent at first.
Wondering loudly about the experience of writing stories set in two different cities, Poonam Saxena said some of the stories are unique to the city in which they are set, while some could have happened anywhere. The story, Saturn’s Ring, where a young girl is demonised because of the aspect of Saturn in her horoscope, may well have taken place in any Indian city and not necessarily in Kolkata, Poonam pointed out.
Shuma agreed and mentioned several stories in the collection which had a pan-Indian flavour. A story about an elderly couple in Kolkata, ‘The Leaving’, who are selling their sprawling house and moving to a small flat, is something that could be playing out in many Indian cities. “Selling your old house to a builder and coming back to live in a highrise where maybe 50 other people live can be very upsetting. It is the end of an entire way of life and I find the whole situation saturated with tragedy,” said Shuma.
Mrinal Pande remarked that many of the stories in the collection have a strong sense of homelessness, a sense of lives in a flux, of shifting sands, as it were. “It is as if there is a breakdown of the known order,” she said.
On whether it was difficult for her to make the transition from journalism to fiction writing, Shuma replied that, to her surprise, it was not very tough, and that she wanted to continue having a foot in both worlds — journalism as well as writing fiction.