The Packed Punch of a Short Story

Alice-Munro-could-be-my-neighbourAfter seeing her books everywhere—she is Canadian after all—I finally picked up a book of short stories by Alice Munro. Let me state clearly that I am a big fan of the short story format. Gems like The Monkey’s Paw by W.W. Jacobs, Jane by Somerset Maugham, The Lottery by Shirley Jackson and anything by Roald Dahl are touchstones in my mind, and I return to dwell on them fondly. But by and large, short stories are, in my opinion, quick, interesting short pieces of fiction that offer a pleasing journey and a satisfying conclusion. I expected nothing more or less from Munro.

From the first page of the first story I was hooked. The story came alive as I read it, characters and situations were presented with the intimacy and depth of a five-hundred page novel, layers of underlying meaning and emotions were unveiled and there was no need for the obligatory twist at the end; the conclusion of the story was more insightful and yet more unexpected than any twist could offer. Alice Munro richly deserves her Nobel prize—her stories are intricately crafted works of art, each unique, each containing a world within it.

Reading her stories rekindled my love for literature and the written word, and made me fall in love yet again with what I do, namely finding new and untapped writing talent. Some with a knack for telling stories, some with a burning desire to make a point, some who make you look at things a little differently and then the rarer ones, masters who work magic, wielding their pens like wands. To uncover this talent is a rare pleasure indeed and one that is my privilege and honor.

Towards this end, we at Indireads run a short story competition every year. This year we received over a hundred entries, out of which five stories were selected in the genres of Crime/Mystery, Drama, Sci-Fi/Paranormal and Romance. Each story was judged on merit alone, author names, gender, affiliations were withheld and each entry was reviewed several times. Not surprisingly, the stories that made their way into the shortlist were the ones that scored highest on style, content and impact time and again. The stories are written by new and not-so-new writers, who are not yet masters of their craft, but who someday might be. This is the start of their journey, so read their stories, encourage them and let their talent and confidence grow and bloom under the light of your attention. I hope you will take the time to read each story, vote for it and leave some words of encouragement for the authors. For who knows, you may just have come across a future Alice Munro.

News & Events

In the Author’s Voice: Anjum

Download, share or listen online to an excerpt from Andy Paula’s short story, Anjum.

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In the Author’s Voice: That 70s Babe

Download, share or listen online to Mamun Adil read briefly from his story, That 70s Babe, published in Love Across Borders.

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Let’s Be Friends…Again!


One word capable of invoking so much inside me and my compatriots.  Every time a soldier on the LoC dies—we hate Pakistan. Every time they ban our film—we pity Pakistan. Every time one of their artistes moves us with his/her creativity—we wish he had chosen India to live in. Every time their politician says rot about us—we curse him. Most of us can attribute these feelings to everything we have heard the news presenters say or have read in our newspapers.

So, in a nutshell, it’s a bitter-sweet relationship jo nibhaya bhi na jaaye or nibhaaye bina raha bhi na jaaye (can’t live with ’em, can’t live without them!).

I have had a different relationship with them. I have a strong opinion on everything that is political in nature but somewhere I had this crazy urge to see someone who lives in Pakistan from close. In my head I always wondered, how a normal person lives there? As in do they also wear nightsuits while sleeping? Do they eat out in restaurants and look at each other as to how much they should tip? Do they watch movies like we do in multiplexes and buy a bucket of popcorn in the interval? Do they walk on a busy street against the traffic or with it? Do they have bad hair days? Do they also crib about Monday blues? Yeah I know it sounds utterly obnoxious but I am like this for most of my fascinations (I have just two more—Celebrities and Times Square).

I guess if I had studied somewhere abroad, all these seemingly stupid enchantments would have been satisfied long ago. That didn’t happen and I built imaginary walls in my head which had its own notions of them being inaccessible and almost—aliens.

My first published work gave me a lot of things. But I never imagined it would give me a gateway to personal relationships with Pakistanis. My publisher is one and every time she called (although she lives in Canada), I would get butterflies in my stomach that I am about to hear a—”Hi Parul”—from a Pakistani. That definitely confirmed one thing—they address me like any other person from any other nationality would! Then came into existence a closed group on Facebook where all the authors were added. I could see a lot of names there which had Karachi/Islamabad/Lahore written underneath them. That was just too much excitement. And then came the real surprise! I got a ‘friend request’ from one of them. The world called Pakistan opened up in front of me. In pictures I saw, they have the same beds or sofas or parks or streets like I have in Delhi. And then I kept adding all the authors who kept sending requests. And now, I post a picture—they can see it. They write a status on their day-to-day life—I can read it! How cool is that?

The story that I have written for the Love Across Borders Anthology is really the culmination of my interactions this past year and a tribute to knowing the human side of Pakistan, who, I am now sure, aren’t two-headed monsters.

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Ansari Uncle, Shahana Aunty and Zehra lived in the same apartment building as ours. Downstairs, facing the open parking lot. Our apartment faced the vacant lot behind. We were from Kerala, a coastal state on the southernmost tip of India and they were from Karachi, Pakistan. We were foreigners together in Muscat in the Sultanate of Oman, where both my father as well as Ansari Uncle worked for a multi-national firm.

From left to right: Shweta in the ridiculous poofy dress; a friend from Bangladesh; Zehra looking serious as she never liked getting photographed and Shoaib looking very different from his usual naughty self
From left to right: Shweta in the ridiculous poofy dress; a friend from Bangladesh; Zehra looking serious as she never liked getting photographed and Shoaib looking very different from his usual naughty self

Zehra was a year elder to me. Five to my four. She was slim and had the loveliest, silkiest hair I had ever seen. She was soft-spoken and kind and really took care of her younger brother, Shoaib. Despite being elder to me, she would let me take the lead in our games, without the slightest protest. We went to different schools. But the afternoons were all about playing till we dropped—indoors, outdoors, pretty much everywhere.  As we grew afternoons were also to exchange stories about teachers and our best friends in class and annoying boys.

There were no boundaries—neither touchable nor perceived. And being based so far away from the sub-continent, our young minds had been spared from being conditioned to grieve over past hurts and perceived slights. We were just friends with no other baggage.

The whole family would come over for Onam and Vishu and other Malayali festivals that my parents diligently celebrated. Eid would be all about the special delicacies Shahana aunty made. My mouth waters at the mere memory of it. And then in 1994, the call of the motherland became impossible to ignore and we decided to go back and settle down in India.

I was leaving behind the people I had known for the first ten years of my life. But I was excited to go back and with the undamped optimism of childhood, I believed I would still, somehow be in touch with Zehra and Shoaib and everyone else.

As I write this in 2013, I’m still looking for Zehra and her family. Even in the era of Facebook, where I have reconnected with friends from my school in Muscat, I’ve still not found Zehra. I wish I had more to key in while searching for her than just, ‘Zehra Ansari, Muscat/Pakistan’. I wonder if she remembers me, and whether she is single or married, in Pakistan or overseas.

Wherever she is, I hope that like me, she too still remembers me just as a neighbour and a friend, free from the restraints of invisible and tangible boundaries. The story that I have jointly written with Naheed Hassan, in this anthology, is dedicated to you, Zehra. It comes from the place that you and your family still hold in my mind. And it is written hoping that there will always be a generation of friends like us, to whom borders will mean nothing.

News & Events Short Stories

Writing ‘Serendipity’

When Indireads asked me if I was interested in writing a short story for an anthology that focused on the India-Pakistan theme, I was more than happy to jump on board. I tried my hand at two or three different plots, but it was a romance that finally turned out to be the best fit.

Neha, an Indian, and Riyaz, a Pakistani, meet at Changi Airport in Singapore, while they are en route to Mumbai. Sparks fly (the good kind), and Riyaz insists they should forge ahead, but Neha is troubled by the rift that divides their countries. Later, Neha decides that matters of the heart cannot be impeded by lines on a map and tells Riyaz that she wants to meet him. However, their hopes of a happy reunion are thwarted when the Taj, where Riyaz is staying, is bombed in a terrorist attack. Whether their romance is burnt to cinders, or if they meet again is the crux of the plot.

The idea of getting the characters to meet at the airport of a country foreign to both appealed because Indians and Pakistanis are often a lot friendlier when they meet on grounds away from both homes. I wanted to stress the notion of how, when you strip away the burden of social restrictions, bonds can be forged a lot more easily. I wove in the Taj Hotel bombing (2008) to show that such attacks claim the lives of people—no matter which country’s passport they hold. Above all, I wanted to write a story that touched on differences, but in a way that sought to highlight that they are largely in our minds.

I hope you enjoy reading this story, and all others included in this anthology.

Yamini Vasudevan

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Oh Romeo, Fair Romeo!

Romeo, in my short story, An Unlikely Romeo, is based on a young man I met in Vienna, while I was helping my husband, Saachi, film a documentary on human smuggling. The boy—he was little more—we met and interviewed over the space of several visits intrigued me. He had experienced so many horrors and so much rejection ever since he set out to cross continents that he had to cocktail nicotine, whisky and doda (poppy heads) to be able to sleep. Yet, he retained an innocent enthusiasm for life that was infectious—and touching. He stayed on in my head, long after the film was finished and released.

When I was asked to write a story for Indireads’ Love Across Borders anthology, the Vienna boy popped up in my head and refused to go away. I thought of his life and I thought I had to write about the futility of borders. People draw borders, but people cannot be confined within borders. Borders lose meaning when necessity and need draw people together.

My protagonists, Nafisa and Romeo, are underdogs, outcasts, rejects of their families, but they are determined to carry on. It no longer matters to them from across which border help and succor reach them. Survival is all. And in the game of survival, any hand that offers help is welcome.

Short Stories

Anjum & Vandana – Unlikely Friends

My first instinct on hearing about the Love Across Borders anthology was to write a story based on the Wagah border. Dividing the two strife-torn neighboring countries is this fascinating place where, paradoxically, some semblance of unity is found. The audience sitting on either side of the fence bear the same complexion and features with the only obvious difference being the style of clothing. This place holds immense potential, and not just for story-telling.

Surprisingly, when I actually sat down to write, my story took on a mind of its own. Away from the border and the parade, it started talking of Anjum, a Pakistani girl who lived in Bombay. That caught my attention. I had never heard of a cross-border migration in urban India, not in the recent times. Vandana, the narrator, was Anjum’s neighbor and after her initial guardedness about a Pakistani padosi, gradually lowered her defenses and took to Anjum like she never had to any other neighbor. While I was bent on knowing how Anjum was ‘smuggled’ to India—this was before the Shoaib-Sania alliance—Vandana could not probe beyond the point of decency.

Nevertheless, she was struck by Anjum’s simplicity. Strife, anarchy, political unrest did not exist for Anjum. She had grown up in a secure background amidst relatives, food and festivals and thought that the rest of the world was an extension of that warmth. That was how she disarmed Vandana.

And that was something! Having known Vandana all my life, I knew how hard it was to be her friend. She was in a constant hurry to accomplish her tasks; her tutorial was her pilgrimage and her students her pilgrims. She knew no life beyond them. As the eldest of three siblings she was equally adept at household chores and went about them with the professionalism of an event manager. It was a joke among friends that if we were to go to Vandu’s house unannounced, she may ask us to do our dishes because it was not on her agenda!

For someone as rigid as her, marriage was difficult. She detested the fact that she had to follow Vineet to Bombay, giving up her lifeline—her tutorial. It did not help that Vineet was her exact opposite. He was laid back and relaxed and lived for the moment. Vandu disliked him at once, but she was practical enough to know that she could not remain a spinster all her life. As she was convinced there was nobody who would be compatible with her, she said yes to Vineet. One alliance was as bad as the other, why waste more time!

Post-Anjum, Vandu was a different person, though. Anjum opened up a part of Vandu’s life that she did not think existed.

Read about Vandana’s journey with Anjum and decide for yourself if the fence between the two countries is just a mental block, or are friendliness and love actually hostage to geography?

Andy Paula, India

News & Events

Double Win in the Drama Genre

dramaWe couldn’t decide. Both of these stories were exceptional. So we gave them both the prize.

Mohammed Musthafa Azeez for A Plate of Rice


Neha Puntambekar for In Exile

Both stories, as different as night and day, were strong in language, originality and racked up the votes (considering In Exile was the last story to be released on Indireads, it collected a great deal of votes in a very short span of time). Their individual qualities meant that we could not pass either of them up, so we offer them both our deepest congratulations.

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Crime Winner None Other Than ‘A Second Chance’

crimeThis was a tough one. Not only was there strong competition, but we had the author’s second entry to consider as well. So when we picked

Dr. Roshan Radhakrishnan for A Second Chance,

it was a hard, long haul. Up against the likes of Mr. and Mrs. Sampath, and Sowing Seeds, A Second Chance edged ahead on the strength of snappy dialogue and crisp language. Congratulations, Roshan, this win was well-deserved!