2. Ladders Against the Sky. Stories. Kaziranga Books. 2017
3. Themes in the Indian Short Story in English: An Historical and a Critical Survey. Prakash Book Depot. 2008
4. The Indian Short Story in English, 1835 -2008 E-book
5. Stories of a Salesman. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. 1st Edition 1967. 2nd Ed 1979
6. Deep Roots. A Play in Three Acts. Writers Workshop, Calcutta. 1970.
7. Themes in Indo-Anglian Literature. Prakash Book Depot. 1977
Murli Melwani’s recent short stories have been published in magazines in various countries, including U.S.A. He is a two-time nominee for the Pushcart Prize, in 2012 and 2013. One of his stories made the list of “story South Million Writers Award notable stories of 2012.” Another was nominated for “Best of the Net 2013” prize run by Sundress Publications, USA. A large number of his stories have found their way into anthologies. A manuscript of short stories, “Water on a Hot Plate: Stories” was shortlisted for the Flann O’Brien Award 2014. No wonder some of his friends call him, “the almost there man.” He is the editor of a website he recently established containing reviews of Indian Short Stories Written in English.
BEYOND THE RAINBOW
A Mohenjodaro of Memories
Writing about one’s own ethnicity and communities comes loaded with risks – the most important ones being a sense of complacency, an urge to glorify and validate community moorings and practices, sentimentality, nostalgia and – above all, stereotyping. The stories by Murli Melwani in Beyond the Rainbow – fascinating stories from the global Sindhi diaspora – are refreshing mainly because even though the stereotypes of the Sindhi community are worked skillfully into the narratives to give them firm grounding and to evoke a sense of familiarity and camaraderie, and also often to provide the touch of humor and irony, – there is never the sense of complacency. These charming and life affirming stories are the take-off points from which flows much introspection and pronounced strains of the satiric.
A fitting companion to his earlier volume, Ladders in the Sky, this volume comprises of eleven diverse stories which delve into various aspects of the lives of the protagonists who are all Hindu Sindhis; these are people who come alive as flaneurs, travelers, nomads and always on the go – in search of prosperity, wealth and a luxurious lifestyle for themselves and their families, making the leap from working as employees to establishing their own global businesses (‘the head of a chicken’), adapting themselves to the ways of living in various locations from Assam, Hongkong, Taiwan, the US, Mexico and various places with unpronounceable names. Men who seek to control over their own destinies and ensure that they are the ones always in control on the family level as well as the business levels. An almost outrageous case of this urge to exercise control is Hassaram in the story “The Mexican Girlfriend” who goes to great lengths to prevent the marriage of his son Ajay to Linette and murders her in cold blood when he realizes that the couple have gone against his wishes. What makes this story even more exciting is the brilliant way in which this elderly businessman plans to trace the young couple and later on to escape from the US law machinery.
The men-protagonists are basically from the Sindhi community, and one cannot but admire the élan with which they deal with international clients and the painstakingly meticulous manner in which they inch their way to financial prosperity. All the stories are moored in the culture and ethos of the Sindhi community though. Saaz Aggarwal, in her short but comprehensive Introduction to the book, contextualizes them in the business acumen, their conservativeness, the loss of homeland and cultural roots in 1947, the travel propensity which has taken a miniscule community to almost every country in the world, and the tremendous adaptability which has ensured the survival of the community in challenging circumstances. ‘It’s not surprising that Murli’s stories can form a business manual’ while presenting ‘rich historical and anthropological insights’ also are remarkable for the ‘depth and quality of writing’ which makes them ‘not just enjoyable but notable works of fiction’, she states.
So, in almost every story we come across smart youngsters who grab a business opportunity when they see one, and go on to build fortunes in their adopted lands. Socially and professionally, they are malleable and flexible, learning the languages of the various countries they visit or in which they settle down, but they do not let go of their roots on the personal and familial levels. Which accounts for the fact that they make their annual pilgrimage to India in the quest for marriages arranged without losing sight of the financial implications and status (‘The Bhorwani Marriage’ for example), a traditional bride who cannot address her husband Metharam by his first name but has to use the formal ‘Heydaan’, and who will not be permitted to interfere with his business world and concerns. It is not surprising that the women characters are suppressed and learn the hard way to keep within the boundaries prescribed for them.
Interesting titbits about the cultural positioning of the Sindhi women give insights into the coping strategies which they use into order to survive and help their families, in their search for a fulfilling life. Like in the case of the wife Rita in ‘Hongkong, Here I Come’ –, who has stood steady by the protagonist and followed his diktat, becomes his real strength when he has to start rebuilding his life again after the financial disaster overtakes them in Hongkong. Moreover, there are times when, in the middle of a narrative about the rising prosperity graph of the protagonist, Melwani can instill poignancy by the simple, though unexpected behavior and insight of a woman. In ‘The Head of a Chicken’ when Vivek Ajwani telephones his aging mother to tell her that he is marrying a Chinese girl, her response is, “I will imagine that I have four daughters, instead of three. A daughter leaves her home; a son stays back to look after his widowed mother”. It is with such a startling turn of phrase that he brings home a whole load of emotion to the reader. A fine sense of objectivity and authorial control serves to critique the self-importance and sometimes even pomposity that some of his characters may be victim to.
There could be a strong sense of affiliation of the author with the characters but that does not prevent him from keeping then under constant scrutiny, without being judgmental, neither making excuses for them nor valorizing them, but by delving deep into their psyche and undercovering layers of emotion behind the successful, staid faces that are presented to the reader.
There is also satire which comes to the rescue, as Saaz Aggarwal shows in her Introduction, – the fine sense of humor and satire which is on full play in the choice of names in ‘The Bhorwani Marriage’ a spoof on the ostentatiousness of the community and the extravagances of the marriage market, which are accepted with a very practically outlook.
The non Sindhi women characters are stronger and more varied and the relationships with them expand the canvas of the narratives: there is the Chinese May Lin of “The Wok” chain of restaurants in Canada and her Indian antecedents; the girl Rok in ‘The Bar Girl’ who falls in love with the protagonist but marries someone else because he cannot bring himself to give up his family for her sake; and of course, Lily, the writer in ‘Writing a Fairy Tale’.
One of the most striking features of the Sindhi community which Murli Melwani highlights is the prevalence of strong family bonds and affiliations. Though the family forms the subterranean base in all the narratives there are some in which its importance is actually foregrounded. In the two stories mentioned above, the men make conscious choices, placing family and family responsibilities above all else and sacrificing personal, even human and romantic interests for the stability of the family; – is this is a marked trait of displaced communities,” I am led to wonder.
Again, there is a deep spirituality which is a vital part of the Sindhi ethos. So, it could be the Philip Roth-reading Tejwani, who takes the betrayal of his employees in his stride and moves on in life, and who is all forgiveness when he accidently meets Vivek at the airport, says to him, ‘After what you and the other boys did – after what you did – I decided to do the travelling myself. I said to myself, how much does a man need? He can eat only so much. He can wear only so much…’ Simplicity, austerity, penance and faith form the core of ‘The Turning Point’ in which the life of a child is turned around by the devotion of his parents and their attachment to the local gurdwara.
Beyond the Rainbow…, with the candid, spicy titles of its short stories, its eye for the miniscule detail, its sense of history and culture and the wonderful cover design by Veda Aggarwal which has every Sindhi icon from the ajrak to the ubiquitous diamond will be read by the Sindhis, I am sure with a chuckle and plenty of smiles. For the younger displaced Sindhis, it opens up a world which they would realize must not be allowed to disappear and links them with ‘a Mohenjodaro of memories’ and to drive home the urgency of the idea that ‘Our culture was like a puddle of water on a hotplate, effervescing and evaporating, vanishing’. For other readers Rainbow… offers a glimpse of a worldview beyond the ethnic stereotyping which often results in the tragic or farcical othering of complex, evolving cultures.
TESTIMONIAL ON THE COVER: “ An interesting collection of short stories in the global Sindhi diaspora” – Gurcharan Das
Breaking the Stereotype
Review by Saaz Aggarwal
One of the most interesting aspects of the Sindhi diaspora are its many communities scattered in ports around the world, and this collection of fine short stories is an intimate glimpse into its realities by one of its members, Murli Melwani, professor at Sankerdev College, Shillong, Meghalaya (India). In the 1980s, political events in Shillong caused Murli to leave the home in which his family had settled after Partition. In his forties, he became a businessman, lived briefly in Hong Kong, then in Taiwan for twenty-five years, and eventually in 2005 moved to the US, where he now lives. All this while, he continued to write, and his academic repertoire includes Themes in the Indian Short Story in English As a businessman, Murli was buying in one place to sell in another, as Sindhi businessmen have done for centuries. In the 1850s, they began to do so in countries around the world, and Murli is one of the many who followed this tradition, establishing the theme for his own short stories. Set in various exotic locations, each of the short stories in this collection was inspired by something Murli saw or heard, and he refers to the collection as “a gift of my travels.”
Says Murli, on the cover of the book:We are viewed as shallow for our ability to suppress negative thoughts, devote unbounded energy to business and live a flashy lifestyle. Being individualistic and opinionated by nature, and because we have not shown a cohesive and attractive face to the world, Hindu Sindhis are seen as stereotypes. With these stories, I have endeavored to show that we have lives as individuals too. In Water on a Hot Plate, Hari and Rajni are visiting their son in Toronto, and they meet an Indian Chinese lady who runs a restaurant there. They converse with her in Mandarin—learned during their several years spent in Taiwan; of course, they speak to her in Hindi and English too. From the “Bollywood” music playing in the background, Hari can tell that the India she belonged to was not the India he had left. Resh, their lunch guest, is visiting from Curacao. She speaks Dutch and English and even idiomatic Papiamentu—a Portuguese and Spanish-based Creole language—but not Sindhi.Writing a Fairy Tale is a gripping love story in which the reader journeys into the rainforests of eco-versatile Chile—and unexpectedly encounters the Arabic aspects of the country too. The MexicanGirlfriend is also a love story, and though set in a home by a lake on the U.S. border where migratory birds flock—a real place, as Murli told me when I asked—has more sinister than exotic twists. Followed by The Bhorwani Marriage, a high-energy satire of Sindhi weddings including an expose of the business opportunities offered by matchmaking in the diaspora, it appears that Sindhis do not really do romance. Family comes overwhelmingly first; business and profits are a priority; and comfort of living is never going to be sacrificed for a lover. It is not that everyone in the community is money minded. This book takes us beyond that stereotype, with businessmen who are polite, mature and love to read. The skilled portrayals of many different kinds of relationships reveal the author to be an exceptionally subtle and discerning person himself. Even the businessman in shiva with a garland, lonely in his marriage, “had grown sensitive and become aware of many things. He had come to understand the right and wrong of things and the meaning and worth of happiness.”These are splendid stories: good plots, lifelike characters, beautifully laid out in clean, distinctive language. However, Murli is not just an observer of humans and their situation, not just a weaver of tales—he is a skilled businessman too. His stories provide practical never-fail tips on selling, exposure to business cycles, and the understanding that large investments, even the most obvious, could turn out to be ruinous. There are young employees who clone their employers, swiftly learning the trade and soon enough snatching it out from under their employer’s feet to set up as competitors. Some families have members living in other countries: the father ships out goods from a manufacturing location while the sons sell in other parts of the world, creating hugely profitable companies which run around the clock. So, while Murli’s PhD is in English Literature, this book also tells all kinds of things he did not learn at Harvard Business School.
For more about Murli, his book and his community see this interview by Saaz Aggarwal on:
BEYOND THE CARICATURE
Review by Rajesh Pant
Many years ago, as a child in class three, I saw something amazing. A tall for his age boy, a classmate, proudly walked up to the Math teacher and presented him a cake. “It’s my birthday”. The Master who was about to read the results of a quiz, stopped him; read out his marks. He had failed the boy. Then in a rage he threw the cake on the ground, kicked it out the door and roared “don’t try and bribe me you dirty Sindhi”. (Those were the days of course, where Teachers were forgiven for being impolitic!)
After class, the boy went out, quietly picked up the cake, and took the first bite himself and shared it with us saying his mother had baked it, why waste it? The memory of the incident has not left me because it was the first time I had heard a Teacher being abusive and the first time I had heard of someone being called a Sindhi. Before that I only knew that the boy’s name was Pooran. The ‘Sindhi’ caricature of a scroogish person who accumulates cash and real estate while constantly prattling ‘vari sai’ is widespread; egged on by actors playing bit stereotypes of Sindhis in yesterday’s Hindi films. And thereby hangs a tale.
Caricatures are an unfortunate sociological phenomenon, particularly in our country; we draw upon them and use them very matter of factly mostly disrespectfully. This in turn causes diminution of our strength as a society. Constant usage somehow cements these social and untruthful caricatures till they becomes part of our believed folklore – said by elders, repeated by the young who will ape anything. And so it will go till we mature as a Society.
Murli Melwani’s collection of short stories ‘Beyond the Rainbow* goes a ways in breaking the caricature. It is a mélange of colorful people, exotic locales and some adventure. All characters and events are supposedly fictional. But I suspect, very strongly, each story is true or at least has a broad element of truth. It is said that a people whose homeland is sparse – or who have no homeland at all – causes them to move to far and foreign lands. To make their living or ply their trade. True of Marwaris, Jews and Scots and certainly Sindhis. The sweep of the locations of the people and stories is ample evidence of the truly international spread of this group of people.
Stereotypically Sindhis have settled in Haang Kaang and have shops in Chunking Arcade! Melwani’s book serves us a different and exotic cocktail – Curacao, Toronto, Taipei, Bangkok, Bombay, New York, Honduras, Darjeeling and of course HK and Ulhasnagar. He paints a picture of their fads, foibles, beliefs, customs, strengths, weaknesses. These stories illustrate the ease with which they adapt to (or do not) to stressful, and strange situations.
In one of the longer short stories – the protagonist is called to the Holiday Inn in HK for an interview. This took me years back on my own first trip overseas and to HK; I stayed at the Holiday Inn in Kowloon and was amazed to see a small statue of Lord Shiva near the entrance with a ‘fountainette’ from his locks depicting the source of the Ganges. I was told that the property was owned by the Harilela’s. “Sindhi, you know, flom your contly” – the Receptionist informed me Though I believe they are Hongkongers stretching back a century. Coming back to the tale, ‘Head of a Chicken’ is a textbook narrative of poor boy, with remarkable insights “…but, a Sindhi would not ask a question without a motive…” he is economical with ethics, makes good and then faces the same situation he had left his earlier employer. An interesting take on ethics and business, a motif which runs through a some of the other stories.
Another facet about Melwani’s writing is the simplicity and honesty. In one of his stories he writes “there’s a writer in each one of us”. He does not use artifice; the story is what the story is – and that is where the writer’s true craft comes in. It is very complex to keep a narrative simple. This is exemplified when he writes a commentary on one of the most intricate machinations of our society, almost like a Rube Goldberg contraption – the fixing of a marriage, narrated by the Marriage Broker. It is mirth and thought provoking in equal proportions. Explaining it is like instructing a Martian the process of lacing-up shoes and knotting them. ‘The Bhorwani Marriage’ is a treat. Having made a fair amount of money in the transaction, which is what arranged marriages generally are, the Broker adds his punch line “One must be grateful for the crumbs that life throws one’s way”.
Sex is is not taboo. This is refreshing because our public posturing is prudish and fairly Victorian. So when a well off and retired businessman has a romp with a Bar girl; it does not seem shocking. The twist is later in the tale like in the thought process of a man in another story, watching a call girl undress. And more – a Father who can shoot to kill – to dictate a marriage in his family. As they say – you can take a man out of the home but you can take the home out of the man.
Like all those who have spread across the globe and settled; names soon change to suit or accommodate or better still to merge with the chosen country of abode. Meaning we are here to stay and be a part of you. An endearing quality which makes Jetharam convert to Jimmy and Metharam change to a more suitable Mike. A subtle change of status too? Which brings me to another story.
Years ago in the middle eighties, my Boss called me to substitute for him and make an unscheduled presentation to two gentleman sitting in the Conference room. The object was to present India, as a country full of promise yet not hide the pitfalls. The two were obviously ‘from overseas’. Post the presentation I introduced myself and the young guy stuck out his hand saying “Tommy, Tommy Hilfiger. I’ve just started a line back home with him and this guy brought me here because he’s very hot on India though he’s never lived here.” The other gentleman’s calling card was a folded affair. The top read Gloria Vanderbilt and the card opened to reveal his name ‘Mike’ Murjani.
LADDERS AGAINST THE SKY
FRESH AND VIBRANT
Review by Mitra Phukan
Indian Writing in English from India’s North-East has come a long way in the past several years. It is now recognized to be a category in itself, bringing a freshness and a vibrancy that’s almost a marker.
Murli Melwani is definitely a writer who can be classified as being from India’s North-East, even though it has been decades since he has lived here. One of the earliest authors of this category, his life and writings have ranged far and wide. From Shillong, where he grew up, through many countries in the Eastern and Western hemispheres, Melwani and lived in and travelled through them all. All the while, he has observed, and created stories that reflect these milieus, refracted through the prism of his unique individuality. He has been writing for decades now, and has been published in prestigious journals worldwide.
Ladders Against the Sky, published by Kaziranga Books, is a collection of 23 stories, the genre for which he’s best known, and in which he excels. With a Foreword by Victor Banerjee, these stories are people by individuals whose actions, as they propel the action forward, make for engrossing reading. Backgrounded against diverse locales, from India’s North-East to the country’s metros to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Taiwan, the U.S., Canada and many other places, these pacy stories with diverse themes make very engrossing reading.
About half the stories in the collection centre around the Sindhis, a community of which the writer is a member. This is a community which today, after Partition, does not have a homeland. Sindhis now exist as a diaspora. Melwani’s stories, besides being excellent in their own right, are also important as a documentation of the lives of Sindhis. This includes the way arranged marriages are organized with families living in different countries and continents. They also give an insider’s view of this enterprising business community, the networks they have, often with humour. Since very little fiction has been written about this community in English, this book is also important in this regard.
The narrative in these stories is backed by the author’s moral compass which sometimes follows people using unethical practices, in business and otherwise, to their inevitable doom. Others depict a clash between civilizations, played out in the domestic sphere. The Sindhis’ preoccupation with business is balanced with the depiction of the extraordinary levels of hard work they put in, as they move from almost rags to unimaginable riches. In a way, this mirrors the history of the displaced community as well.
It is notable that the cover, beautifully designed with understanding and subtlety, by Aditi Phukan, has already won praise worldwide.
Ladders against the Sky is a wonderful collection of short stories from a master story-teller, remarkable both for their interest as sociological documents and also as interesting explorations of character, with diverse themes.
http://www.assamtribune.com/scripts/spat.asp?id=2018/jun1918/BigPage11.jpg Please scroll to the right and click on the Feature “Bookshelf”
Mitra Phukan is a writer, translator, columnist and classical vocalist who lives in Guwahati, Assam. Her published literary works include four children’s books, a biography, two novels, “The Collector’s Wife” and “A Monsoon of Music”, and a collection of fifty of her columns, “Guwahati Gaze”.
An Engrossing Collection of Short Stories
Review by Maina Saikia
When we look at the Brahmaputra river we see not only its beautiful surface but also become aware of the undercurrent. This is the comparison my mind made when I read Murli Melwani’ s collection of short stories. On the surface Murli Melwani’ s stories hold our attention because of the series of events, the strokes delineating character, the touches of description and the dialogue. The undercurrent is formed by the social concerns, political issues, the contrast of traditions and the ethos of the setting, all of which are suggested rather than stated.
Stories like “Gift for the Goddess” and “The Divine Light,” set in Rajasthan, bring out the clash between traditional thinking and the scientific temper of the space age. “Shiva’s Winds” and “Teesta Holiday,” embedded in the rugged beauty of the Rothang Pass and the North Bengal Hills respectively, pit the forces of nature against the indomitable human spirit. “The Village with Gandhi’s Statue,” with the background of the tobacco growing areas of Andhra Pradesh, exposes the moral heartlessness of the influential.
It’s understandable that a large number of stories should be set in the North East since the author grew up and was educated in Shillong. “The Guerilla’s Daughter” is a story about the insurgency in Nagaland and the syncretic nature of religion. The picturesque beauty of Shillong and the Khasi Hills is an apt backdrop for some of the stories. “Sunday on a Green Lawn” is a touching love story. “Those Season of Contentment,” is about the growing up and the heartbreak of loss. “Requital” records how irony plays out in life. “The Shrine” presents a Khasi folktale as a re-mix (the current fashion in music and the arts).
Humor and satire move the narrative forward in in some of the stories. Good examples are “Hawana of the East,” which records the relaxed manner in which officialdom functions in the remote border areas, and “The Bhorwani Marriage,” which focuses on the maneuvering that takes place when expatriates fly into India to find partners for their children.
“Sunday with Mary,” set in urban Mumbai, is a picture of the sort of life led by expatriates who return to India.
There is a group of stories about Indians, particularly Sindhis, who have decided to settle overseas. The backgrounds of these stories extend from Chile to Thailand and a few countries in between. “Water on a Hot Plate” shows an NRI and an Indian-Chinese restaurateur sharing their memories of India. “The Head of a Chicken,” moving between Hong Kong and Taiwan, is the story of an unscrupulous businessman who will do anything to further his ends. “Writing a Fairy Tale” tells of the attraction between and an Indian exporter and a beautiful women trapped in an unhappy marriage with the exporter’s client. A hostess in a Thai bar, in “A Bar Girl”, helps an elderly businessman to restore his severed links with his family. “Hong Kong, Here I Come” and “The Mexican Girlfriend” are portraits of two insensitive individuals who destroy themselves and their families by their actions.
The variety of backgrounds and strong characterization form the two banks through which this mini brahmaputra of stories runs. Most of these stories were first published in journals and anthologies in the U.S., U.K., India and Hong Kong. Some of them were nominated for a number of awards.
The Foreword, by Victor Banerjee, a distinguished son of the North East, is highly perceptive. Mention must be made of designer Aditi Phukan’s unusual, eye-catching and pleasing layout.
I highly recommend Ladders Against the Sky by Murli Melwani.
Uprooted from Home, Flourishing Worldwide
Review by Saaz Aggarwal
I picked up this book and started reading it as reference material for a research paper on the global Sindhi diaspora. The author is a global Sindhi businessman and I knew, in a patronizing sort of way, that I was surely going to learn something interesting. Halfway through the fourth story, when I had to get something else done and it was a wrench to put the book down, I realized that I was in fact reading entranced.
These were splendid stories: good plots, lifelike characters, beautifully laid out in clean, distinctive language. What made them even more fascinating was that each one is set in a different, exotic location.
Murli Melwani is an inveterate traveler and this collection, as the jacket describes it, is a “gift of his travels”. 15 of the 23 stories are set in different parts of India and in them we encounter separatist movements, landslides, cramped urban spaces, insights into different aspects of religious devotion and various other complex situations in unexpected locales.
Murli grew up in Shillong. Between school and college, he travelled a lot and visited different parts of India. Later he worked in the English Department at Sankerdev College, then took up a Coca Cola distributorship and for a while ran a bookstore. In time, he moved to work in Taiwan and his job took him to countries around the world, doing something many Sindhis do.
A little more than half the book features this diaspora, families which originated in Sindh and now live and do business in countries around the world. “Water on a Hot Plate” is set in Toronto. Hari and Rajni are visiting their son there and in this story, they meet an Indian Chinese lady who runs a restaurant there. They converse with her in Mandarin – from their several years in Taiwan; of course they speak to her in Hindi and English too. From the Bollywood music playing in the background, Hari can tell that the India she belonged to was not the India he had left. Resh, their lunch guest, is visiting from Curacao. She speaks Dutch and English and even idiomatic Papiamentu – a Portuguese and Spanish-based Creole language – but not Sindhi.
“Writing a Fairy Tale” is a gripping love story in which we somehow journey into the rainforests of eco-versatile Chile – and also, unexpectedly, encounter the Arabic aspects of the country too. “The Mexican Girlfriend” is also a love story, and though set in a home by a lake where migratory birds flock – a real place – also a subtle metaphor – has more sinister than exotic twists.
Followed by “The Bhorwani Marriage,” a high-energy satire of Sindhi weddings, including an expose of the business opportunities offered by matchmaking in the diaspora, it appears that Sindhis don’t really do romance. Family comes overwhelmingly first; business and profits are a priority; living comfort is never going to be sacrificed for a lover.
It’s not that everyone in the community is money -minded. This book takes us beyond that stereotype, with businessmen who are polite, mature and love to read. And the skilled portrayals of many different kinds of relationships reveal the author to be an exceptionally subtle and discerning person himself. Even the businessman in “Shiva with a Garland,” lonely in his marriage, “had grown sensitive and become aware of many things. He had come to understand the right and wrong of things and the meaning and worth of happiness.”
Still, Murli is not just an observer of humans and their situation, not just a weaver of tales. He is a skilled businessman too and his stories give us practical never-fail tips on selling, exposure to business cycles, and the understanding that large investments, even the most obvious, could turn out to be ruinous. There are young employers who clone themselves, swiftly learning the trade and soon enough snatching it out from under their employer’s feet to set up as competitors. Some families have members living in other countries: the father ships out goods from a manufacturing location while the sons sell in other parts of the world, creating hugely profitable companies which run around the clock. So while Murli’s Master’s is in English Literature, this book tells all kinds of things he didn’t learn at IIM-A.
Saaz Aggarwal is the author “Sindh: Stories from a Vanished Homeland”,”Sindhworkis: A Unique Global Diaspora” and the forthcoming, ” The Amils.” She lives in Pune.
Link to the review:
Links to other reviews of the collection:
Themes in the Indian Short Story in English: An Historical and a Critical Survey
The Indian short story in English has produced abundant creative variety but limited critical appraisal. This book studies collections of short stories in this genre from 1835 to 2008 against changing social and political mores, recording how human nature reacts to as well as influences events.
The Short Story is more Expansive to the Nuances of a Multicultural, Diverse Nation.
Murli Melwani’s Themes in the Indian Short Story in English is a historical overview of what he describes as the “step child of literature”, the Indian short story in English. As a genre short stories are neglected by both publishers and critics, though authors, including mainstream novelists have experimented with the form, mainly because of its brevity, and the free play it allows with themes, style and characterization. A short story can be philosophical, political, lyrical and subversive.
What Melwani suggests is striking; as a literary form it is especially suitable to deal with the wide range of Indian experiences, so that thematically it is more expansive and faithful to the nuances of a multicultural, diverse nation like India than the Indian novel in English.
At a time when the Indian novel in English is being noticed in the literary scenario, winning both awards and accolades, this seems a timely critical interjection. Melwani makes it very clear that he is not discussing individual stories, so that each chapter is period based and gives us brief pen portrait of authors and their works, ranging from established writers, to lesser known names, to those whom we discover for the first time.
To that extent there is nothing predictable in the choice of works and the way they have been placed in the historical, socio-political context. The analysis never palls because each author, and the list is comprehensive and wide ranging, is accompanied by sharp, insightful comments on different aspects of writing and reading. Normally this sort of capsule presentation of a particular period, covering a decade, can give a sense of sampling rather than providing an in-depth literary analysis; it is to Melwani’s credit that he is both astute and incisive in his commentary, however brief they might be.
At times why he includes a writer can be a trifle whimsical, but his individual author analysis is rarely sketchy. Thus we get an interesting analysis of why Melwani feels Ruth Pawar Jhabvala is a better short story writer than a novelist. Sometimes he provides startling juxtapositions such as Jhabvala’s use of satire as compared to Kushwant Singh’s satirical writing. We also get to know about Keki Daruwala’s short stories, a lesser known aspect of the poet. The space that is given to authors can vary. So Anita Desai gets as much space as Hamdi Bey or Jug Suraiya. Some authors are barely mentioned in a catalogue style, which can be frustrating and can take away from the flow of the argument.
At times one gets the sense that key themes such as the politics of Indian writing in English is given too little space, though here again the analysis is sharp and insightful. Melwani’s contention is that the question of Indian writing in English is asked 2 decades later, so that when Ruskin Bond and Bunny Rueben are writing short stories in English the question of authenticity is no longer a key issue.
However it is in the postmodern tales that Melwani becomes a little too predictable, and one begins to feel the absence of a more contemporary treatment of modern literature in relation to complex times. Many a time the analysis becomes too cursory, almost superficial, and the book ends up endorsing what it had claimed to challenge.
In the final analysis it would seem that the step motherly treatment given to short stories is key writers, mostly novelists and poets, merely experiment with short stories so that it remains a side activity. A pity that a neglected literary form with enormous potential, which Melwani suggests in a way that is often tantalizing and intriguing, can only arouse lukewarm interest in the reader. The portrait gallery suggests mediocrity rather than real genius. This aspect has been brought into the argument but only with reference to individual writing rather than as a matter of critical contention. However Melwani successfully draws our attention to works that are less known, and to authors whom we tend to neglect. I for one would be tempted to pick up the works of Attia Hosain and Padma Hejmadi.
Reviewed by Dr Suroopa Mukherjee, in World Literature Today, Oklahoma, Sept-Oct 2008 issue
“All things considered, then, the chief attraction of Melwani’s work remains the portfolio of writers and their short stories that his collection complies. This aspect of the collection is both wide-ranging and painstaking, bringing to notice, among others, several obscure, forgotten or little-known works. In the process, it does enough to spotlight the short story genre as an extant and expanding archive deserving serious research. Ultimately, it is for this, that his book win recommendation.
Where Melwani’s distinction is clearing a trail on a road less travelled in Indian literary studies, the challenge for Nation in Imagination is quite the opposite.
Review in Wasafiri,The Magazine of International Contemporary Writing, London, Vol 24. No 2, June 2009.
Links to other reviews
Stories of a Salesman
Summary(the inner blurb actually)
Tea is a Very Good Drink : a young man, disappointed in love, discovers the virtues of the cup that cheers, in an ironical, touching cameo. The Electric Saw : U Sibmon Roy, pumpkin-faced tinpot saw owner, faces the truth that not only workers, but industrial machines, have personalities. A Ghost comes to the somnolent hill town of H. and starts a to-do that brings out all the dirty Linen in the open, in a sharp, drily satirical story. All Our Yesterdays — And Tomorrows : the husband-wife-and -lover motif presented with extraordinary restraint and compelling pathos, Shiva with a Garland : a visit to a prostitute brings to the man memories that are suggested with a haunting tangential economy of effect. Del Wilpo is A Remarkable Woman, “of reserved virtue, “ who provides a public utility service in the style of Mamie Strovert but with characteristic Indian touches. Brother and Sister are street performers, resolving bitterness and tension in a posed photograph showing both holding hands. In An Upset Stomach Seth Mangaldas dresses himself in a brief public authority to compensate his hen-peckedness. The Shrine re-tells an Assamese legend of two lovers. Those Two are mother and son, and son and seductress — and the point is : who will possess who? The Mask hides Mrs. Gian Chand’s private grief — but very briefly. The Kite-Flying Season is also one of maternal heart-break. Dark Diwali Night sketches a coal-miner’s dilemma. At the Ghats of Varanasi an agnostic comes to grips with the meaning of life. The Doctor’s Fees are paid, and no questions asked, in a story reminiscent of the theme of Measure for Measure. Eight Rupees, received with thanks — in a story with a twist ending. In A Boy and a dog, the Indian pariah is poignantly celebrated.
Sharp Vignettes of the Daily Round of Average People
Review by William H. Archer
“ Murli Das Melwani is a young East Indian businessman who writes as a hobby. Well educated, he has edited a magazine. As he is by his own admission “ very much a bachelor”, he may be unusually well qualified to write about the intrigues of the marriage market of his country, which cannot be too different, beneath the surface, from our own. It is anyway a topic that is touched on in the Stories of a Salesman, which are not stories with complex plots so much as sketches after the manner of Lafacadio Hearn, sharp vignettes of the daily round of average East Indian people. Let us hope that this promising writer may resurrect his partly finished novel of Indian life from the ashes of the fire that destroyed the manuscript” – William H. Archer, Tennesse Weslyan College, in Books Abroad, July 1968 issue University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma.
Reviews also appeared in The Journal of Indian Writing in English, Thought, The Statesman, Hindusthan Times.
A Play in Three Acts
The play portrays the dilemma of a young man educated in a missionary school, who cannot adjust to the family business outlook, symbolized by his father, or the licentious habits of young men of his class. It ends with a ritualistic, boozy, sarcastic mass “prayer”.
Alienation of Various Kinds
Review by Eunice D’Souza
DEEP ROOTS is a play about alienation of various kinds. Arvind, the hero has been to a missionary school, barely knows his own language or anything about Hinduism, and doesn’t agree with his father about arranged marriages. In addition he has had “no home life.” His father is the kind of Indian parent who feels that his duty begins and ends with making money for his family and providing it with material comforts. Consequently he has no time for Arvind as an individual with aspirations of his own. Arvind is repelled by him yet drawn by the “poetry” of traditional gestures such as touching one’s father’s feet, even though for him at least it is an empty gesture.
In other words, we have every reason to sympathize with Arvind’s predicament. And yet, somehow, we don’t. The reason is not that Melwani doesn’t really know the society he is talking about. The character of the father and his relationship to his writer son whose work he doesn’t read but hears about from others is recognizable as is Arvind’s situation — the educated son of a successful businessman who has planned his life for him.
But the knowledge is not really translated successfully into dramatic terms. The first fact shows us Arvind in the company of other sons of the nouveau riche for whom being sophisticated and Westernized means going to cabarets and clubs, drinking heavily and talking vulgarly about women. Their conversation proceeds as follows for eighteen pages:
(Enter Popsy from inner room, with two empty glasses …)
Ahmed: How’s the bitch? Cooperative?
Popsy: Hasn’t hotted up as yet. I say fill us up. Extra strong for her.
Popsy: The bitch was behaving like a bride (mimics her) ‘Oh don’t touch me’. ‘I get excited so quickly.’ … Shut up, I said. And my hand began its geophysical explorations.
The point of all this during the course of the scene, is to show that Arvind is alienated even from the Westernized section to which he supposedly belongs, But the young men depicted are the dregs of any society, Westernized or otherwise, and all one can say about them is that the more alienated one is from them the better. For dramatic purposes, they are just sitting ducks.
The problem re-occurs in the second act which is an extended conversation act which is an extended conversation between Arvind and his father. The father “big fat … with a fatness that suggests grossness” is another sitting duck. He says “I don’t understand” to virtually everything the son says and the moment he opens that conversation about the marriage he has arranged for Arvind, we know what is going to follows. The effect is that of recitation of a set piece, and the whole act has a remote, static and undramatic quality because the incidents from Arvind’s traumatic childhood and the subsequent ambivalence are recalled, talked about, analyzed rather than enacted in meaningful terms.
This reporting of events is one of the major flaws of the play. Arvind tells us in the third act that he married Neena, a Christian girl to spite his father. Ahmed tells us he married a lame girl for her dowry and a job as director in her father’s factory. But we would like to know more about these people who are mentioned in passing. What did the lame girl feel about the whole thing? Did she by any chance have the kind of personality to transform this sordid transaction into something more human?
In the end Arvind decides to go to England where he expects to “find himself.” But nothing in the play has prepared us to believe that he is going to find himself in England more than anywhere else. The end product for the reader is that he decides that Arvind is in the last analysis perhaps more adolescent than alienated. A precious, slightly pompous, often fatuous adolescent who can without batting an eyelid make statements like these:
“Speech was given to conceal thought; to the Indian it serves its primary purpose — to express though.”
We’re hardly surprised when his father doesn’t understand him. I’m not sure the reader will either. Which is a pity because it means that the playwright hasn’t quite achieved what he set out to do.
The review appeared in The Times of India, 6 December 1970.
Another reviewer’s comment
“The first act is brilliant, electrifying, theatrical. If ever there was a well-made one-act play, this is it…..It was surprising that the following two acts turned out to be completely without yeast.”
Paul Jacob in Enact,# 46, Oct 1970.
In JS. Nov 14, 1970
By Subhas Chandra Saha in Thought, June 13, 1970
In Hindusthan Standard, Nov 8, 1970
By Ramen Majumdar in The Century, Nov 23, 1970
Themes in Indo Anglian Literature
A number of essays on trends in Indio Anglian literature, novels, short stories, drama, poetry and literary criticism
Review: Intention to Arouse Interest in the Practical Problems facing the Indo Anglian Writer
By Dr. Amaresh Datta, Professor and Head of the Department of English, Gauhati University( as it was known then)
Indo-Anglian literature, whatever be its status in the country of its origin in the present political context, has grown both in bulk and quality over the years. This growth has been fostered by the attention paid to it by the western scholars and though much of this attention has been rather patronizing there has been, here and there, a genuine recognition of merit which speaks a lot about its intrinsic worth. Here in India also we have now started giving Indo-Anglian literature, at least in the academic world, some kind of respectability by introducing it as a subject of study and examination at the university level, by holding seminars and symposia on its various aspects and also by allowing students to prepare and submit doctoral theses on it. Scholarly books (which are not really very few in number) apart, studies of its socio-economic milieu, its political background, of its past, present and future have appeared and are still being written. To all these Dr. Murli Das Melwani now adds a collection of his essays mainly on Indo-Anglian literature. But it is gratifying to note that the interesting survey that these essays present is not a rehash of the usual stuff. In fact this series of essays suggests a point of view that is as refreshing as it is helpful. Dr. Melwani is not only a knowledgeable critic of the subject but also a practicing Indo-Anglian writer. And the fact of his being one has helped him to see the problems of the Indo-Anglian writer with perspicacity and analyze the existing situation with understanding and insight. On his own admission he is concerned with the practical aspects of criticism (he is prepared even to describe his criticism as journalistic) and his analysis and assessment have been, on the whole, penetrating and judicious, but he need not have been hard on what he calls ‘the luxury of academic criticism’.
Dr. Melwani regrets the absence of more pieces on Indo-Anglian poetry. But despite the fact that this absence leaves the account incomplete, of which he is conscious, his study of the Indo-Anglian literary scene remains in a way straight and adequate. For he has seen and discussed the problems which are fundamental to all the branches of Indo-Anglian literature. The writing on Indo-Anglian poetry has been on the increase and on Indo-Anglian fiction quite appreciable in recent years. Dr. Melwani has been wise in confining his attention to the Indo-Anglian drama, the short story and the newer writers. I wish he had added an essay on the Indo-Anglian non-fictional prose – a region still to be explored. But as it is, his study of the drama and the short story in particular should prove valuable and stimulating both to the general and specialized reader. He has not only tried to be up to-date but has also commented very intelligently on the difficulties, short comings and achievement of the Indo-Anglian writers in these fields. The serious students of Indo-Anglian literature may, however, be a little surprised at the exclusion of Sri Aurobindo’s dramatic efforts from the survey. Whatever may have been the quality of his dramas, the fact that he wrote a few ought to have been at least mentioned. Some critical observations on their merit or the lack of it would also have been welcome. After all Sri Aurobindo was the only Indian writer to hold the view that the language of future poetry would be English.
It is ironical that Indo-Anglian literature which was looked upon as a hothouse plant when English was fully accepted and studied with passionate devotion, has now become the natural mode of creative expression for a section of the people. It seems that polarization is not confined only to politics and that the search for linguistic identity is intensifying also in the sphere of culture. Dr. Melwani mentions the groups including the transition-generation- who form this category. But the real point is shat, in the existing situation, can be the inspiration behind Indo-Anglian literature. Drama being more directly connected with the people the Indo-Anglian dramatist has to face the problem of communication with a greater sense of immediacy. All experiments with the grafting of foreign techniques on the plays written in English on Indian theme or experience or with Indianization of western modes and methods are bound to prove artificial and therefore ineffective and Dr. Melwani has shown with a wealth of detailed evidence that it has been so in most such cases. On the other hand it may be profitable to note that similar experiments in the regional languages have yielded better results and helped create an environment for the appreciation of the new drama.
The Indo-Anglian writer cannot perhaps afford to forget that what will ultimately alienate him is not the foreign medium of his literary expression but, his imitation of the foreign models, his superior exclusiveness, his snobbery and his dissociation from the various urges of the nascent national life. Dr. Melwani shows, I think very convincingly in his essay on the Ceylon Literary Scene how some of these causes led. Ceylonese writing in English to a dead end. In a period of awakening among the people the writer should feel called upon to write on shared or at least sharable experience. If the Indo-Anglian writer can keep the western reader out of his mind (in which case he might be more attractive to the discerning western critic) and does not distort or exaggerate the picture for commercial gains and easy applause, if he can come closer to the larger life of the nation and acquire a sense of belonging and participation and above all if he can resist the lure of undated universality he may still feel habilitated. When Michael Madhusudan Dutt came back to his mother tongue to write his great epic after having failed to achieve any success as an Indo-Anglian poet his language was not even a selection of language actually spoken by men but he felt accepted and that feeling sustained him in his great and pioneering literary efforts. The Indo-Anglian writer has to learn the art of being accepted.
Dr. Melwani’s collection also contains essays on the Ceylon literary scene, some book reviews and letters on controversial literary problems. His critical vision is clear and writing competent and he knows very well what he is talking about. His criticism of individual works may be sketchy and sometimes even casual but the overall impression is one of a systematic, factual and useful study of contemporary literary scenes. If the author’s intention was to arouse serious interest in the practical problems particularly of the Indo-Anglian writer this intention has been considerably fulfilled by this collection.
The book was reviewed also by Prof E.M. Sohklet on All India Radio, Shillong on 29 Aug 1977. Also in The Hindusthan Times 3 July 1977, Deccan Herald, 27 Mar 1977 and in the July 77 issue of The Journal of Indian Writing in English
Links to Short Stories in the Public Domain
(not yet collected in book form as yet)
“Hawana of the East” was nominated for the 2012 Pushcart Prize 2012(http://enizagam.org/?p=282). It was a finalist in the 2012 Enizagam Literary Awards in Poetry and Fiction: http://enizagam.org/?page_id=194
“Teesta Holiday” in the bi-annual Mount Hope Magazine published by Roger Williams University: http://issuu.com/mounthopemagazine/docs/www.mounthopemagazine.com/79. Reprinted in BR International (Hong Kong).
Freezing Time appeared in Asiancha, Hong Kong ” http://www.asiancha.com/content/view/1268/357/“Freezing Time” made the storySouth Million Writers Award notable stories of 2012 list. http://www.jasonsanford.com/jason/million_writers_award/
Freezing Time appeared as“Water on a Hot Plate” in Drunken Boat.(USA): http://www.drunkenboat.com/db16/murli-melwani with a voiceover (narration) by William Bruce McFadden so that the story can be read and heard at the same time.
Also in Muse India: http://www.museindia.com/featurecontent.asp?issid=62&id=5941. Reprinted in Kalfa International (India) and BR International (Hong Kong). Included in New Asian Writing Anthology 2014. http://www.new-asian-writing.com/tag/murli-melwani/ Shortlisted for the Flann O’Brien Award 2014.
Urban Reading is a site that welcomes a visitor to a city/town by providing a link to a short story relating to that place on his/her handheld device
“The Inner Light” in Marco Polo International Literary Magazine (USA) . http://cargocollective.com/marcopolo/The-Inner-Light. Subsequently included in New Asian Writing Anthology 2013.
“The Bhorwani Marriage” has been anthologized in Stories from Asia: Major Writers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh (Longman Imprint Books, U.K). Also translated into Italian and published in an anthology called RACCONTI dall’ INDIA. (Oscar Narrativa).It has been included in another anthology, Contemporary Indian English Stories (Sterling Publishers, New Delhi) that became a recommended text for schools in North India.
“The Guerrilla’s Daughter” in South Asian Review, Creative Writing Issue (South Asian Literary Association, Lexington, VA). It was reprinted in MuseIndia. http://museindia.com/viewarticle.asp?myr=2013&issid=47&id=3913
“The Mexican Girlfriend” in eFiction Magazine
“Writing a Fairy Tale” in Yuan Yang , A Journal of Hong Kong and International Writing(Published by Hong Kong University in the Centenary issue).
“Gift for the Goddess” in OutofPrint Magazine
“A Bar Girl” in Marco Polo Arts Magazine(USA)http://cargocollective.com/marcopolo/filter/Melwani/A-Bar-Girl
“Sunday with Mary” in Contemporary Literary Review of India. This story made the long list of nominations to the “ Best of the Net2013” prize run by Sundress Publications,USA
“Hong Kong, Here I Come” Writers Asylum: http://www.writersasylum.in/2013/08/fiction/hong-kong-here-i-come/
“The Village with Gandhi’s Statue” in Cigale Literary Magazine: l
“The Head of a Chicken” in Prick of the Spindle.Nominated for the Pushcart Prize 2013. http://prickofthespindle.org/2013/09/23/the-head-of-a-chicken-by-murli-melwani/
“Those Seasons of Contentment” in Open Road Review with a voiceover (narration) by William Bruce McFadden . http://openroadreview.in/those-seasons-of-contentment-by-murli-melwani/
“Sunday with Mary” in Contemporary Literary Review of India. This story made the long list of nominations to the “ Best of the Net2013” prize run by Sundress Publications,USA
The Shrine” http://www.readomania.com/story/the-shrine
Sunday on a Green Lawn http://www.readomania.com/story/sunday-on-a-green-lawn
Waiting for Leander Paes, Sania Mirza or Somdev Devvarman: http://www.readomania.com/story/waiting-for-leander-paes-sania-mirza-or-somdev-devvarman
Links to Articles
Articles in The Dallas Morning News
Report on Victor Banerjee meeting Bro Curran: http://yourallen.dallasnews.com/2013/11/27/a-special-thanksgiving/
Similarities between Guru Purnima and Thanksgiving. http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/local-voices/headlines/20101122-murli-melwani-our-many-thanksgivings.ece
Remember Father and being a father at the same time. http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/local-voices/headlines/20120615-murli-melwani-on-fathers-day-i-enjoy-both-of-my-roles.ece
Home remedies trumphed surgery when I had knee problems. http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/local-voices/headlines/20120720-murli-melwani-give-me-options–only-doesnt-cut-it.ece
Money and love. Is there anything else that defines man.http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/local-voices/headlines/20120224-murli-melwani-its-our-passion-that-makes-us-human.ece
Indian innovate in the U.S; why don’t they do it in India?http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/latest-columns/20130703-murli-melwani-why-do-innovators-thrive-in-the-u.s..ece
Also medical tourism. http://formosamedicaltravel.com/medical-tourism-blog/tag/murli-melwani/
Shillong – A Nursery of Literary Culture http://nelitreview.tumblr.com/post/23916007554/shillong-a-nursery-of-literary-culture
How my father overcame Calamity. http://www.underthebanyantree.in/author/murli-melwani/
How Taiwan helped me Spiritually. http://www.chinapost.com.tw/commentary/2012/08/28/352447/Unwrapping-the.htm
I took 27 Years to Write My Book of Criticism http://www.indianbookreviews.com/2012/05/02/twenty-seven-years-to-write-a-book/
I can write Indonesian. Scroll down the page and see the name of the author
Annual show case of Asian cultures in Plano TX http://yourallen.dallasnews.com/2014/04/14/asiafest-a-cultural-icon/
Shillong has produced many Literary Personalities. The article needs updating.http://www.shillong.com/content/eminent-personalities-associated-shillong
http://shodhganga.inflibnet.ac.in/bitstream/10603/716/5/05_chapter1.pdf Murli Das Melwani
http://muse.jhu.edu/login?type=summary&url=/journals/lion_and_the_unicorn/v019/19.2khorana.html. Reference to Ruskin Bond
I was humbled and honored when in 2014 my seventies article, “In Defence of Pulp Literature” was included in The Best of Quest.
Laeeq Futehally, Arshia Sattar – 2011 – Drama
… can he hope to abridge their alienation and marginality and exorcise the ghost of assassination. In Defence of Pulp Literature Murli Das Melwani (Quest 100:
“The Best of Quest is, as the title suggests, the best of all that was ever published in Quest, India’s leading intellectual magazine in the 20-year period of its existence,1954-74.”-BookAdda
Extracted from page 144 of The Irish Legacy: A Story of the Irish Contribution to Education in India. Published by The Embassy of Ireland, New Delhi, 2012