Title: Lost Men
Author: Rajorshi Chakraborti
Publisher: Hachette India
Price: Rs 350
Genre: Literary Fiction / Short stories
It is a collection of 9 short stories and a novella. It is not a page-turner and is not meant to be. There is no room for frivolity, it demands absolute attention from the reader or you risk missing some finer nuances. I must confess there were times when I re-read certain parts.
‘Lost Men’ is not for everyone. There are no conclusive endings to most of the stories in the book; the reader is left to draw his own conclusions. The book is replete with dark humour, with ordinary circumstances spiraling into situations beyond control. ‘Lost Men’ has its moments when you don’t regret reading it.
The first story Knock Knock itself provides a glimpse of what to expect. A bank employee pursuing a regular couple for formalities looks like a believable, normal situation, which most of us have gone through; but how the story progresses, sets pace and spirals into an abrupt ending, makes you want more of it; but then you are left to yourself to comprehend what might have been of the situation.
The Last Time I Tried To Leave Home is another quirky story, which also can happen to anybody. A person is out to catch an international flight and finds a lot of time on hand to spare. He decides to take a little detour to pass some time, and then one thing leads to another. I found this story, in spite of the narrator’s situation, quite amusing. Half An Hour is another similar story, though the similarity is limited to how an ordinary situation leads to relatable yet bizarre circumstances.
The Good Boy is a personal favourite. It starts with the memory of a friend who committed suicide twenty years ago in strange circumstances. It is about reaching out to close the open chapters of the past.
The Third Beside Us is another weird story, and so is A Good Dry-Cleaner Is Worth A Story.
Lost Men is about a man trying to deal with the death of his wife. He keeps moving to different places, meeting different along the way. He is always suspicious of what people tell him, looking for motives behind them. Recalling memories of yearning for his wife in the past, he writes, “Until now, during any separation, each night apart had also brought us one day closer to the moment of our reunion; I would go to bed thinking I’d served out another day of my sentence. Now the sentence had no limits; you we're never brought any closer to the day of your release. You just kept falling further away.”
City Lights is about a chance meeting with the childhood family doctor that evokes nostalgia, and also how the narrator finds himself in a place which looks familiar only from the descriptions in a friend’s letter from many years ago.
What I enjoyed most were Viju’s Version and the novella, Down to Experience. Viju’s Version is about a boy / man whose best intentions are marred by his excessively bad luck. A bright, promising school boy has to go through public humiliation in the wake of his innocent though wanton actions which brings much infamy to his school. He isn't let alone even when he grows up. His nature of work leads him to Maoists. The story also has his school teacher’s version, who he runs into a few times during the course of the story, and how she perceives him.
Down to Experience is a completely different story in terms of background, people and context. It takes a while to get into the world of Ivan, who is central to the story. The story is set in the late 1940s, about a group of people caught in the conflict of different ideologies, issues of trust among themselves, of what they are and what they seem to be, and whether they are writing their own destiny or just playing in the hands of higher powers.
Personally, I don’t like short stories. I prefer bigger books, the fatter the better. I like to know the characters intimately and spend time with them. This book opened a different kind of writing that was more accommodating of the reader.
Read it if you like literary fiction and fancy unconventional narrative. Here’s an author interview to give you more perspective on the book.