The obvious challenge about creating a collection of short stories is not just making each one shine individually but also making them stack up well against one another. The young writer Kanishk Tharoor meets the challenge brilliantly in his Swimmer Among the Stars, a collection of 12 stories that reveal a voice that is sensitive, gentle and layered.
Tharoor must have had a fairly broad canvas as a journalist, critic, and student of creative writing to have drawn from for his first book. In the first story, Elephant at Sea, he explores the intimate relationship between a mahout and his elephant and their long journey from the backwaters of Kerala to a princess's castle in Morocco. Tharoor manages to get under the skin of the pachyderm—he reveals insights into its psyche through inflections in its walk, for instance. To give another instance, the mahout points out how the creature can sense the difference between Indian distances and the Moroccan. The story ends on a wistful, mysterious note, as you are left wondering what happened to the mahout once his beloved elephant reached its destination.
Some of the finely crafted lines reveal a certain maturity and connection with universality. 'While an exile can escape her country, she can never escape her exile', he writes in The Fall of an Eyelash—a line that rings true for anyone who has experienced a banishing. The story has been crafted from something close to the superstition associated with making wishes upon eyelashes, but it takes a look at the order of the universe.
The title story, about an interview with the last speaker of a language, is the best. In this, Tharoor looks at the politics, as well as the death, of language. Who would imagine that the quaint phrase 'swimmer among the stars' would mean 'astronaut' in a certain language.
This one is a promising debut.
Swimmer Among the Stars
By Kanishk Tharoor
Published by Aleph
Price: Rs.499; pages 188