Monday, November 1, 2021

Short in the Arm: Thoughts on "Morsels of Purple"

Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar, the author of “Morsels of Purple”, has an uncanny knack.  She draws the reader into her worlds with economy of words, yet packs them with detail after intricate detail.  How a daughter, not the men in the family, knows that “crumbs collect in the folds of skin” under a father’s neck.  How a husband pays scant regard to a post-it note, “Lunch in the Instapot.”  How a mother scrubs her son’s shaving foam from the sink.  The book is a compilation of 54 pieces of flash fiction, all short pieces between a paragraph and three pages in length.  The book is filled with the kind of detail that go beyond cliches, swiftly and elegantly establishing the mood of the individual pieces.  But where her writing truly steps into a different plane altogether are the carefully chiseled lines that mark key moments in her stories.  I lost count of the number of such phrases that truly jolted me from the relaxing rhythms of the stories and the vivid imagery, to make me pause at times, stun me into silence at others.

“The rains, which I hold inside, start.”

“There’s no ring on his finger, not even an indent of one.”

“My mother visited once.  I didn’t know she knew where I lived.  Or, whether I lived.”

The three lines quoted above are from different stories, yet they have a commonality.  There is not one unnecessary word in any of them.  Not one fancy or flowery turn of phrase.  Yet their impact, in the context of the pieces, is indelible.  One of the chief pleasures of Sara’s writing is that despite being similarly stunned at several places across separate stories, I could rarely see any of these profoundly impactful lines coming my way.  That is because she does not follow any fixed template.  One of the most spectacular pieces is one titled, “What if.”  True to the title, the entire one-page piece is a series of questions, culminating in a riveting finish. (The phrase, “island of our mattress” was especially astonishing.) You almost get the sense of these pieces writing themselves, that is how unforced and organic they are!

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There are some lively, amusing pieces such as “Rose Jam” and “The Watchmaker.”  The aforementioned eye for the keen detail shines brightly in these pieces.  But “Morsels of Purple” will be remembered by me for a long time for mainly three stories– “The Spring Rain”, “Dear Abu” and “How to live with an alcoholic husband.”  I very nearly teared up reading the first two and was amazed by the third piece in which each line starts with “when” –a rather painful journey is captured in a series of increasingly forceful lines.  “The Spring Rain” is a searing account of a woman who has gone through something unimaginable yet finds closure in the most unexpected manner.  (The “rains” line I cited above is from this story.) “Dear Abu”, as the title suggests, is about the feelings of a daughter towards her father.  The visual impact that the writing conjures – a case in point is how the Dad “stood at the gate with a torch in your hand, shining its light on each taxi…” – casts a spell.  The contrast between the last paragraph and what precedes it is a masterful example of ‘show, don’t tell’ that marks Sara’s writing.

As I reflected on the book in its entirety, I got the feeling of the whole being more than the sum of its parts.  And here's why.  With several of the pieces, I was able to not only experience a journey of sorts but was also able to luxuriate in some of the little life lessons and learnings that I took away from them.  In that sense, my personal journey with some of these pieces extended beyond the few pages that I spent with them.  And it was only a small fraction of the pieces that did not work for me.  It was either because they were a little too direct, sans Sara's customary vividness of prose or element of surprise (“Not forever, Snowman” for instance).  Or they were a tad predictable like “The Milkman.”  The misses, as I mentioned, are few and far between, certainly not enough to detract from the rich pleasures that are to be had in the book. 


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Anu Warrier said...

What a lovely review, Ram. You make me want to read this collection. Thank you.

RM said...

Thank you so much, Anu. Yes, a terrific book!
Do consider reading when time permits.