“Short stories are tiny windows into other worlds and other minds and other dreams. They are journeys you can make to the far side of the universe and still be back in time for dinner.”
Indian short stories are special. Filled with local nuances, realistic characters, and most importantly being short, Indian short stories are more engaging and enjoyable. Some stories make us question society’s ways; some are merely there to laugh at the absurdities of humankind.
I believe short stories are meant for all, be it an ardent reader or one who runs away at the mere sighting of a more-than-two-hundred-page novel. A good short story has the tendency to capture the reader and take him or her on a whirlwind in a matter of few pages.
The following list contains great short stories whether written in English or translated into English from various regional languages.
- QUILT by Ismat Chughtai
“In the winters, when I pull a quilt over me, it’s shadow on the wall looms like an elephant and, immediately, my mind races back to gambol in the pages of a world I have left far behind.”
Lihaaf or Quilt was originally written in Urdu and is one of Chughtai’s most popular works. Chughtai was a rebel and was known for producing unconventional pieces of literature, Quilt being one of those. Quilt upon being published was termed “obscene”. Written from a 14-year-old girl’s perspective, Quilt is an account of a girl’s week long stay at Begum Jan’s residence, and touches upon the theme of homosexuality. It is fascinating to read how, through a child’s perspective, Chughtai by not saying anything explicitly, says so much.
- TOBA TEK SINGH by Saadat Hasan Manto
“If they were in India, where exactly was Pakistan? And if they were in Pakistan, how was it that the very same place had, till recently, been known as India?”
Manto is one of the most celebrated Urdu short story writers. In Toba Tek Singh, through the inmates of a lunatic asylum, Manto portrays the effects of Partition. Written in such a simplistic manner and with the use of dark humour, Toba Tek Singh perfectly captures the bewilderment, panic, pain, and sense of loss caused by the Partition. The ending couldn’t have been better, brilliantly putting in words the harsh reality of Partition.
- THE BLUE LIGHT by Vaikom Muhammad Basheer
“I liked the place instantly. It was an old house. There was something strange about it even at first glance. Didn’t matter; it was perfect for me.”
Written by the literary gem of Kerala, The Blue Light is a fun and enjoyable read. It tells the story of a quirky relationship, between the narrator and the spirit of a young girl that resides in his house, and is said to be inspired by Basheer’s own such encounter. It is interesting to read the strange one-sided conversations between them, whose absurdity is absolutely hilarious and at the same time eerie. The short story has also been turned into a movie, Bhargavi Nilayam.
- SECOND OPINION by R.K. Narayan
“I, too, was seeking illumination, but continued to remain in bondage”
R.K. Narayan is known for the realism in his stories, using characters that we can identify with. Second Opinion, a story from Malgudi Days, focuses on the relationship of a mother, who is obsessed with the idea of her son’s marriage and a son, who is more interested in Plato. The story follows their relationship, vividly describing their arguments, which sound absurd, often evoking a little laughter. In their relationship, the reader can see a bit of self and her mother.
- THE HUNGER OF STONES by Rabindranath Tagore
“I was in such a trance that I began to imagine that this ineffable, unattainable, unreal setting was the only reality on earth, that everything else was a mirage”
The Hungry Stones or The Hunger of Stones follows the narration of a story within a story. It is an account of a man’s stay at an old palace, where the line between real and imaginary are blurred. He is drawn to the house, infatuated by its past. The story has been read differently, as one filled with irony, or as a piece of fiction that explores the different levels of consciousness.
- A LIFE by Buddhadeva Bose
“The subject was like Draupadi’s sari- unfolding constantly, an unending mystery, one whose depths you kept sinking into.”
A Life, as evident from the title, is an account of the life of Gurudas Bhattacharya, and his quest to write the greatest Bengali dictionary ever written. Buddhadeva Bose, considered to be one the most brilliant writers and second to Rabindranath Tagore, tells a story of a man’s determination, at times gloomy, but thoroughly engaging.
- GATEMAN’S GIFT by R.K. Narayan
“When a dozen persons question openly or slyly a man’s sanity, he begins to entertain serious doubts himself”
Gateman’s Gift is a hilarious account of a man, who is driven mad by the thoughts of what horrors a registered mail could contain. The gateman is a memorable character who refuses to believe that good things could happen to him, and in turn starts questioning his own sanity.
- INSPECTOR MATADEEN ON THE MOON by Harishankar Parsai
“It’s not for us to worry if it is the actual killer or someone innocent. All human beings are equal. In each of them is present a bit of the same god. We don’t discriminate. We’re humanists.”
Inspector Matadeen on the Moon is the story of Inspector Matadeen, who is called upon by The Government of Moon to educate them about law and good police work. The story is a satire, originally written in Hindi. Harishankar Parsai very cleverly portrays the flaws of the Indian police by weaving such a fantastical tale.
- THE BLUE UMBRELLA by Ruskin Bond
“This was the first time Binya has seen such a small, dainty, colourful umbrella and she fell in love with it. The umbrella was like a flower, a great blue flower that had sprung up on the dry brown hillside.”
The Blue Umbrella is a tale of a girl and her pretty, little blue, silk umbrella, which earns the admiration of every villager. Situated in the hills of Garhwal, Ruskin Bond weaves a beautiful image of the hills. You cannot help but fall in love with the character of the innocent 10-year-old girl. The short story has been turned into a film by the same name, directed by Vishal Bhardwaj.
The list can’t possibly accumulate all the great short stories written by Indian writers. Tell us about your favourite short story in the comment section below!