Book Review: Holy Birds Left A Few Saints With Stories

Book: Lost In Obscurity And Other Stories; Writer: Debasish Mishra; Book Street Publications

By Kabir Deb

Lost in Obscurity and Other Stories by Debasish Mishra is a beautiful book of short stories that one must read to really understand the value of cultivating the places and instances we visit in our life. Indians of the present time have this weird tendency to buy books that have been published by publishers who believe in manipulation and authority, and I stand by this opinion of mine. But if we really go on reading the authors whom we admire now for being so brilliant at their task, then we’d see that they voluntarily chose to either self-publish their books or to publish their pieces in a daily newspaper. Even Nirmal Verma chose not to publish his literary pieces with a publisher who could have made him reach the stars with his first book. There’s a reason behind it. The top-most publishers in any country have their own system and a writer has to operate under that umbrella, whereas the very underrated publishers with a reach of only a thousand provide independence. Lost in Obscurity has that independence where I read the mind of the writer like I read and know him without any veil or pretension.

Ideally, a writer of good short stories goes for the geography of the places his/her characters are developing in. Debasish Mishra does the same thing. He talks about the places many of us didn’t even visit, yet he makes the towns and districts familiar to us. I felt the aroma of the village, the longing of all the towns and the loneliness of the people trying hard to keep their lives like they used to be. In between all of these, his characters walk, run, sob, yell, curse, party, love and hate. I read this book with Nirmal Verma’s Kavve Aur Kaala Pani in mind, and trust me, I didn’t have to go through both of these with two different approaches. Nirmal’s book spoke of the different characters living in London with its own winter and people, while Debasish Mishra’s book spoke of Shankarpur, Srabanpur, Kolkata, Delhi, Jangar etc., with people living the life that I am living right now. I guess it was the art of Nirmal Verma that made me look into the soul of Lost in Obscurity and Other Stories. I discovered in it those people I could connect to. The writer’s greatness lies in making things appear like they are, and sometimes it becomes a necessity because we want to feel less lonely, and this book made me feel that its characters lived my life.

I always stand accused of giving spoilers, deliberately or accidentally, but I’ll try not to give any kind of spoiler for the sake of the treasure this book holds with its people. A kid’s desperation is equal to the mightiest storm, and his longing could weave a story that could set an example of the strength of a kid or the condition of society. Mishra beautifully pens the calamity inside a child’s head without leaving any poetic sky above him because some stories just need to be told. Amidst the chaos of Uber and Ola, we all love to share the nostalgia for a taxi that hasn’t been owned by a company. The conversation between the driver and the passenger reminded me of my conversations with the drivers of the yellow taxis of Kolkata I usually prefer to take. I have shared my deepest and truest thoughts with the taxi drivers who remember me even today just because of how I could pull the strings of their heart with my dream and words. The inner turmoil of a couple living under one roof is the hardest thing to pen, because a writer who’s a man would understand it from his perspective, thereby missing out on how a woman must experience it from her perspective (wouldn’t miss the chance to express what she must). . A writer has to be wise enough when he makes a choice to speak about facts and truths (chaos) which don’t come in the daily newspapers or on the breaking news of a primetime show. Debasish Mishra does the same. When one’s speaking of loving a person, he/she has to speak of unloving, and vice-versa. He speaks of both, and this isn’t diplomacy. It is a very rare quality that many writers do not have: to not give an opinion or judgment, but to leave it for the readers who are going to read it.

Artists who hail from the Eastern part of the country with the heritage of Bengal often fail to portray the structure of people who belong to (from) both urban and rural parts of West Bengal. The writer doesn’t fail to make me feel nostalgic and proud of being a Bengali. In many places, I also felt elated because of how he portrayed the instances in the life of a Bengali individual. The only thing that I was craving for while reading these stories of the people who have a Bong connection is the soul of the outskirts of Bengal (to be specific, Mufossil). I think that’s what separates writers like Bibhutibhushan Bandopadhyay, Sanjeeb Chattopadhyay, Manik Bandopadhyay etc., from the writers of the millennial generation (and that includes me too). But when his other short stories started touching the outskirts of the states other than West Bengal, I understood that the writer has lived most of his life on the outskirts of the places that do not belong to West Bengal, which then brought some clarity, but I guess the craving would stay.

Lost in Obscurity and Other Stories is a very important book, not because of how it has placed its characters, but also because we’ve stopped living a life that’s beyond the rectangles placed in our hands. The world where people interact without any kind of software, and sort things out like we imagine only happens in a fictional world. The book is capable of making its readers understand – not manipulate – the value of the most subtle emotions. But here’s one tiny suggestion: do not read this book when you’ve work in your hand. The book demands time, our time. Its characters aren’t fictional (if we keenly observe). They are neither superficial, nor unrealistic. Like Tigmanshu Dhulia said, “Good films are not identified by powerful adjectives. Rather, the connection leaves no room for any word”. Debasish Mishra left the characters of his book for us to taste and interpret in our own way, but I’d quote Freddie Mercury over here: do anything with my song, but just don’t make it boring. So just pick this book and read Mishra. Identify. Observe. Correlate. There’s your world. Period.

(The reviewer is a writer)

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