Books,  Reviews

The Mad Tibetan: Deepti Naval’s anthology of short stories

The Mad Tibetan: Stories from then and now is Deepti Naval’s debut anthology of eleven short stories which was first published in 2011. I happened to stumble over it while browsing for books on Amazon now.  Rather late, I know. But I did enjoy her style of writing, so I decided to write about it. 

The eleven stories are different and yet have a thread of poignancy running through them. ‘The Piano Tuner’ and ‘Ruth Mayberry’ are moving tales of people who are afflicted with an ailment and know that they are fading away. ‘Sisters’ is a distressing story of two siblings who are forced to shave off their lustrous hair by an alcoholic father and subjected to ridicule.

But the stories which caught my attention are the autobiographical ones. The one titled ‘Balraj Sahni’ portrays her first meeting with the actor in 1963 in Amritsar as a nine-year old in two plaits. Another one called ‘Thulli’ describes her adventurous trip to Kamathipura, where she is trying to research her role as a prostitute in an upcoming film. ‘D’ is a story which could happen to anyone, but her guilt is palpable throughout the writing. ‘Birds’ is another story where her sensitive side shines through. Her long detours into the mountains where she would trek, photograph landscapes and meet interesting people emerges in ‘The Mad Tibetan’. 

What struck me most was her ability to recreate a scene on paper in vivid detail, almost like a painter, except that she is using words instead of paint. Colours make an appearance in every story — crimson, ochre, grey, orange, cobalt blue, turquoise — she makes you visualize each little element in the background of the protagonist. Sample this description of the landscape in Ladakh on a cold winter day:

The light changes several times. A restrained yellow glow at first, then a deep redness, and then the dark… a darkness, a redness quite enchanting, and yet…something else, perhaps? I don’t know what, but I wait. Knuckled around me in a circle is the snow all over the mountains, the brown barrenness of slim branches between the river and the slopes, and a sudden black of a yak here and there, for the dramatic element.

Deepti Naval is a woman with many talents. She is not just a sensitive actor, but she is also a painter, a photographer, a poet, a trekker and a filmmaker. When she turns writer, all these talents merge together to create a magical canvas, full of life, albeit painted with words.

The Mad Tibetan: Stories from then and now, by Deepti Naval, Published by Amaryllis, 2011, 159 pages, Rs 395

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