What would come to your mind instantly, when you hear ‘Happy Birthday!’? The cake, heartfelt and sincere wishes of wellbeing in chorus, the claps, hugs, love and merriment all around? What if I tell you that birthday is not all about happiness, but actually the preface to an edition, the beginning of a long spanning chapter of life – the most vivid and detailed mix of happenings that any literary work would hardly be able to capture! Would you differ if I observe the celebration of birthday every year, as an acknowledgement to the variety that Life presents, that adds flavor and meaning to our existence? You must be wondering why am I so much bothered with analyzing life in its complexity, from the view point of birthdays, aren’t you? Well, this is because, I could not find any better way to start a review of ‘Happy Birthday! And other stories’ by Meghna Pant, that I finished reading recently.
As is clearly evident from the title, the book is a collection of short stories mostly set in the backdrop of the metropolis of Mumbai, with a few exceptions that are placed in foreign whereabouts, or some remote interiors of the Indian terrain, thereby presenting a wide array of vivid and colorful shades of the inner world of human feelings and sensibility, thereby drawing a clear parallelism with the variedness of the geography, where it all takes place. Through all the stories in this book, the author somewhere has attempted to show that India, just not poses to be another fast developing nation on the globe, but it replicates a piece of the human psyche, in all its grandeur and strange way of operations. ‘Happy Birthday’ is the third story in the compilation, where, the protagonist, Nadia, is apparently happy and engrossed in her luxurious and comfortable lifestyle, owing to her marriage with the rich and successful Industrialist Danesh; but a chance encounter with the troubled Baman on her birthday, who is coping with a broken marriage and a bleeding heart, makes her re-estimate her own status quo so far. Similarly, the other stories also present a pleasant variance of human nature and interrelations; for example, the once ambitious Vora, in ‘The Gola Master’ who had shunned his humble background to seek his destiny in the USA; but the inexplicable whims of life gets the tables turned in twenty years’ time, when his own son behaves in a similar manner as him and makes him taste the bitter truth in all its jagged reality. Then we have Payal, from ‘Hoopsters’, on whom life had not been so kind, owing to her father’s infidelity, that has made her apparently hard and unforgiving, but somewhere we find a undercurrent of benevolence and philanthropy that is as obscure as the ones within the city she dwells. Meghna’s descriptive narrations take us through the quandary of Meenu, in ‘Dented and Painted Women’, who is poverty stricken and on the verge of losing her husband to another woman, takes one last decision to play with the faith and emotions of a dying man, but leaves us wondering along with her, about the gain and its worth against the loss, in the end.
This book is undoubtedly a pleasurable read, a self-introspection, or a journey within, under the author’s guidance. We feel happy and sad at the same time at the various dilemmas, that the characters are lead through, and the variety and enormity of the inner self leaves us gaping at the Indian Way of life from the holistic perspective. Would we not all be in consensus with Sunny from ‘Lemon and Chillies’, about the fact that ‘Every man ends in his own family’? Our thoughts and realizations get intrigued by the Guruji’s observations from ‘Shaitans’ : ‘Life is a sum of equals Anita, everyone gets an equal share in the end. The more you have, the more you want, the more you have to lose. The less you have, the less you want, the less you have to lose. That’s why the happiest people I have met, are the poorest.’
Being 281 pages long, this book is worth reading till the end at one go. As mentioned earlier, the various stories in the book, somewhere co-relate the journey of the global Indian, who has spanned to every nook and corner of this world, his head held high and proud, basking in the light of new found globalization, yet his feet deep rooted, into age old philosophy and wisdom. Do we not all find ourselves akin to the various parallels depicted in these stories, irrespective of their social and financial backgrounds and geographical origins? Well, you have to read the book, to find it out yourselves.
Overall Raiting: 4/5
About The Author: A financial journalist by day and a writer by night, Meghna Pant is the editor of a business magazine. She has formerly worked as a TV anchor for NDTV Profit and Bloomberg-UTV. Her short stories have been published in over a dozen literary magazines, across four countries. An avid traveller, Meghna Pant has stayed in various cities around the world, from Mumbai and Singapore to Zurich and New York City. She is currently based in Dubai. One and a Half Wife – Meghna’s debut novel – has been long listed for the Cinnamon Press Novel Writing Award, selected as a top ten finalists in Word Hustler’s Literary Storm Novel Contest, and made it to the second round of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.