Lucknow is not all about its Islamic era history, tehzeeb (etiquette), poetry and chikankari. The old city entrapped in the fast-spreading concrete jungle is also about its people and their lives, about Ram Khilawan, Nayyara, Rustam and many more who inspired ParveenTalha, a retired IAS officer, to write A Word Thrice Uttered: Stories on Life’s Realities, a collection of short stories.
The north Indian city in the state of Uttar Pradesh has always occupied the centre stage in Talha’s stories. In her earlier collection of short stories, Fida-e-Lucknow, also published by Niyogi Books, the flavour of the city was intense. In her second collection, Talha has pieced together stories to expand the aura of Lucknow.
With its simple narration, each story in the latest collection presents a unique facet of Lucknow, both old and new. The grandmother in Centipede is sensitive about tradition but has the sagacity to tweak it with changing times and clime. Kausar in A Word Thrice Uttered fears age-old practises and the wrath of poverty. She remains shackled to a tortuous life for years despite having the key to unchain herself. But life goaded her on to break free and she takes the risk, for herself and her disabled son.
There is also Kumkum, a doctor, who gives in to taboos and orthodoxy in Virginity Lost… So What. And there is Prashant who, bedazzled by the silver screen dream life, wishes for a little adventure to escape from the morbidity of convention.
Talha also uses animals to infuse hope amid cruelty and greed. In Rustam, the author writes about the sensitivity that is a common trait for humans. But Major Ilahi Bukhsh’s horse is more human. His attachment with Begum Sahiba, the Major’s wife, is one of a kind. Rustam is their child whom they are forced to leave behind after partition. The animal, however, oblivious to the politics of human world, never stops waiting till the end.
“With all our love and care, we could do nothing to erase the pain of separation from his heart. For two years Rustam would run with the carriage, each time he was harnessed to it, head straight for the Cantonment and stop only at the house in Dilkusha, where he lived with his earlier masters. The new incumbents kept their gate locked. But Rustam would not give up,” says the narrator.
Through all of Talha’s stories one would get the feel of Lucknow, both old and new. The changing human instincts define the changing times. “The characters in this collection have walked through time and shown their willingness and ability to adjust to the demands of a culture which has not merely evolved but acquired an altogether new face,” says Talha about her stories which she narrates effortlessly.
There is cruelty, peril and mistrust but there is also generosity, security and faith. It is this generosity that sets the grandmother in Gangaji Is Not Far, Bappa against her cruel daughter-in-law who does not cringe while levelling accusations against the poor child worker in her house.
Life gets perilous for Amma, or Ghausia’s mother, after her husband died. With three children, Amma was struggling to fend for the family. But faith never dies and Amma sees light in Where Did the Delicacies Come From?
Nayyara never mistrusted her lover in Pakistan till she comes to know the reality. But she does not lose hope and shows her mettle in the story Thanks for Ditching Me.
While Nayyara loses faith in love, little Aslam revives it through his innocence. He finds sacrifice of his beloved pet, Moti, on Baqreed quite banal and coaxes his parents to spare the innocent animal’s life. He succeeds because is convinced that Real Sacrifice is not in taking an innocent’s life but showing generosity.
The book is a collection of emotions weaved together through the short stories. It is a reflection of life on small canvases. Every character is real in his or her own way. Though not a literary genius of a book, A Word Thrice Uttered does not fail a reader’s expectations because life never fails to spring up surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant. ~ NM
Book: A Word Thrice Uttered: Stories on Life’s Realities; Publisher: Niyogi Books; Pages: 192; Price: 350