WHAT YOU CALL WINTER Nalini Jones
Another one of those debut collections of sensitively-written short stories by a half-Indian-half-American writer. So far, so ho-hum. But what makes Nalini Jones’ book unusual is her material: not the psyche of confused second-generation immigrants, but the human condition of the Catholic community in a suburb of Mumbai (called Santa Clara in the book, but obviously Bandra). It’s a subject rich with possibilities, and Jones does it full justice in these intertwined tales.
Subject apart, what’s also noteworthy is the author’s prose: in sentences that are affecting, patterned and skilled, she adroitly intermingles past and present as well as shuffles points of view. In many cases, the facts on which the story’s impact rests are embedded in matter-of-fact statements, but resonate throughout.
In these quiet, restrained tales of vulnerability and adaptation, housewives travel on secret assignments to find information on children to adopt; a young girl comes of age; a middle-aged bachelor ruminates on roads not taken; a mother obsesses over her son’s progress in a seminary; a professor handling changes in the world around him glimpses his deceased father on a bicycle. Many of the stories talk of migrants returning home, and of the impact this has on them and the ones they have left behind. And every now and again we glimpse old villas and habitations being torn down by avaricious builders to make way for high-rises, an abiding metaphor.
Worth your while? Definitely. This is an impressive achievement.