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Whiskey and Suicide by Manik Bal

 


Whiskey and Suicide by Manik Bal

Reviewed by

Dr. Sapna Dogra

Assistant Professor

 Department of English

Government College Baroh

Himachal Pradesh, India



Whiskey and Suicide | Short Stories | Manik Bal |

Nivant Publishing, 2020, pp. 115, INR 130

ISBN: 978-1-63633-931-3

Whiskey and Suicide is a collection of twelve thought-provoking stories by Manik Bal. The anthology offers some truly interesting and engaging narratives of characters caught in the struggles of life. The stories are primarily informed by urban characters. The book deals with no single theme but myriad concerns of modern-day existence like mid-life crisis, issue of identity, memory, filial bonds, childhood friends, class, conjugal disorder, marital discord, peer pressure, suicide, the monotony of daily mundane existence and vicious cycles of choice, to name a few. Most stories are set in cities like Bangalore and Mumbai and successfully captures the ethos of the cities, be it food, dress or linguistic nuances.

The book informs the readers:

Manik Bal is an author who resides in the beautiful city of Bangalore, known for its contribution to the information technology revolution in India and also known for having the worst traffic among all cities in India. Once a pensioner’s paradise, Bangalore retains its phenomenal weather that attracted Manik to make it his home. Manik writes poetry, short stories and novels exploring the Indian middle class, its aspiration and its dilemmas. His characters explore life in situations that are not heroic or exceptional but are mundane and ordinary. They show their uniqueness by facing life as it is.

Manik lives with his wife and two kids in a buzzing neighbourhood in the city allowing him to observe the young and the old chasing the Indian dream. Yes, it exists and is both similar and different than the American dream. It retains the career ambition, a desire for affluent life and the upward mobility that the American dream symbolizes but adds a unique flavor of family ties, emotional relationships with friends and love for melodrama just like the Bollywood movies. (114)

The first story ‘Bapu’ is more of a memoir of a man reminiscing the influence of his grandfather on his life. The story is more descriptive and less dialogic, also the main conflict of the story is missing. The story makes an ineffective point towards the end which is not that convincing. Nonetheless, the character of Bapu, who is a retired Marathi teacher, is well-drawn and it is delightful to read his vices and follies. 

Bal experiments with different narrative techniques and themes in most of his stories. The second story ‘Her Father’s Killer’ has the perfect dose of suspense and will charm the readers. The story moves back and forth in time. It is antithetical to the first story in theme and characters.

Bal exhibits an admirable restraint through most of his stories and never gives in to cliches or boring sermonizing. He is a keen observer of life and people. In this regard, ‘Subtlety’ and ‘Whiskey and Suicide’ are the most interesting. ‘Subtlety’ is different in theme, tempo and setting. It explores a childless couple reading, walking and brooding on writing as a craft. Many young people will relate to Ravi and Ananya. ‘Happy Birthday Joe’ is also an interesting read and has a lot of dialogues.

There is no doubt about Bal’s imagination and creativity. He can truly encapsulate the dilemmas of typical Indian families. Most of the stories written by Bal are rather descriptive. I wish they were more dialogic. There is no dearth of intertextuality with a lot of references to films, writers and musicians like James Joyce, Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Doors and American Beauty. An intelligent and well-informed reader will delight in such allusions. The book has an eye-catching cover and an intriguing title too.

One cannot say that the book has been well brought out. It has also been marred by many things. Firstly, the printing is faint and faded on some pages. There is inconsistent use of font size for text which is distracting. The typesetting should have been taken care of before publishing. The book also has plenty of proofreading and editing errors. The formatting is casual.  It seems that the stories have been hastily put together in the form of a book. Also, some Hindi Words like keeda (26), karambhumi (32) and gyan (78) are left untranslated with no notes or annotations. It might be challenging for a non-native reader to make sense of the point made.

Set in post-covid-19 era there is a ring of contemporaneity to the stories that readers will be able to relate to. All the stories are short and can be read in one sitting. Each story is well told and is devoid of profusion making Whiskey and Suicide a compelling and insightful reading.