A review of Arindam Basu’s collection of short stories, “Every Thing You Never Expected”.
A journalist is sent to investigate a haunted mansion in a remote district. Is it really inhabited by ghosts?
A roadside teashop owner warns a lost traveller that the old, college friend he is looking for in the neighbourhood is a suspicious character. Visitors to his house disappear forever. Does the wanderer ever make it back alive?
A young couple and their child are amongst the hundreds and thousands of migrant labourers trudging back to their village as lockdown is imposed. Does the slumlord, whom they pay their life’s savings for a train ticket, return or does he disappear in the crowd with the loot?
“Every Thing You Never Expected” by Arindam Basu, is a collection of eleven short stories, each more intriguing than the other, engaging the reader as they do, with a series of suspenseful plots, shocking twists in the tale, characters that grow on you and an easygoing style of storytelling.
Penned during lockdown and published by Power Publishers, the stories are only loosely unified by the theme of the pandemic. Other than one or two of them, the tales don’t directly relate to the difficult times but simply use it as a backdrop.
In the story, “The Undead”, for instance, Boidurjo Brahma, who is a reporter with “Kallolini, the largest circulating Bengali magazine for the last two decades,” the reference to the pandemic is just incidental. When the fictional reporter reaches his destination and gets off at the train station he notices that “People now wore masks of a variety of shapes and colours and sometimes their hands were adorned with latex gloves.” The main story, however, is a page-turning detective-drama replete with delightful atmospheric details and charming characters. Part of Basu’s strength as a storyteller, in fact, is his eye for detail and his ability to create real characters. Not just the protagonists but even minor entrants are fully fleshed out. Kisholoy Chatterjee, the editor of Kallolini, is entirely credible as the boss with a penchant for smoking pipe and fine tobacco. As is Bappa, the slender-looking man in jeans and a red T-shirt who slinks away into a building under construction as the thief in the short story, “Glow Worm”.
The short stories cover a range of themes and treatments. They evoke a range of emotions. There is the touching tale of parents trying desperately to save their dying child that truly bring tears to the eyes. There is the sweet story of a girl, Moyna, torn between her growing affection for the elderly couple whom she works for as caregiver and the real reason why she was sent to work for them. There is the psychological drama that plays out in the mind of a person with bipolar disorder and fills us with pity, dread, empathy. There is also the macabre, including a cunning cannibal and a wily werewolf who are crafted so credibly that they can be your next- door neighbours.
And speaking of next-door neighbours, watch out for the selfie-taking, mutton-cooking couple who is presented with as much horror as with humour, which is another element that Basu’s book is refreshingly sprinkled with.
Basu’s book of short stories is a riveting read.