‘It unveils a darker side of things that is better left ignored’ – Eunuch Park by Palash Mehrotra

Random book shopping has it own advantages – I mean when ones goes around with nothing specific in one’s mind then a title such as Eunuch Park by an Indian author is sure to strike the eye. I fell for the same thing and I am glad I did for this book has opened doors I never knew that existed (at least in an Indian setting). Palash Krishna Mehrotra writes about prostitutes, cross dressers, murderers, drug addicts, students and stalkers presenting what can only be termed as the murky side of things in India.

Set in the sleazy labyrinths of metros, towns, slums, hostels, Eunuch Park: Fifteen Stories of Love and Destruction is one of the most gritty and grim collection of stories I have ever chanced upon. Author Palash Krishna Mehrotra describes this Penguin publication thus – “It focuses on vulnerable characters. It’s not about evil. Instead it’s about small time deviancy that is inside all of us.”. In fact an underlying thread that entwines all the stories is some form of despair or abandon along with the fact that most of the protagonists in the stories are male thus giving a completely different perspective. Also many of the stories have their back drop as campuses and schools – but contrary to the usual indulgence of treating these with an air of nostalgia Palash shows no sentimentality towards them.

All of the stories are extremely engaging and the title story ‘Eunuch Park’ is the one that would easily be anyone’s favourite. In this story, a young couple Anmol and Roshni – needing a place to make love with the privacy one requires, end up at the Eunuch Park – a shady park in the city. Run by eunuchs who charge for a few hours of intimacy, the couple end up being extorted for money. Frustrated the couple end up in Anmol’s hostel room and it is during the act of making love that the dean and the hostel warden knock on the door. Desperate, Anmol bundles Roshni in a quilt and stows her under the bed. But the men eventually find her wrapped up and upon seeing her naked they transmogrify into eunuchs (weird eh?!). The stories of Okhla Basti where Angad lays wasted reminiscing about his lost love is a wonderfully portrayed story – it unveils a darker side of things that is better left ignored. Most of the stories forces reality upon us and seem to demand an acknowledgement that in general one would be afraid to give.

In the opening story of the book, ‘Dancing with Men’, a wonderfully written sequence about how a sailor steps onto the shore swearing to get married ends up finding an equally desperate woman follows thus – the sailor saying “Thank God I met a girl, this girl – I was so desperate to be married I would have married a goat” to which the girl’s nonchalant reply is “Same here”. This exchange is but an example of the simplicity that Palash uses so sweetly in all his narratives – a candid yet subtle presentation.

However on the brighter side of things this collection is not bleak throughout. There are ample moments of humour but more so than that there are moments when you feel a trifle uplifted – nothing direct but there is an element of blissful upheaval. I felt this reading ‘The Teacher’s Daughter’ which brings out the resolve of a father to stand by his daughter in spite of her having misbehaved. As for humour there is plenty – in ‘Nick of Time’, Mayank a compulsive cross dresser, ends up doing a “Hussain Bolt” across the corridor needing to pee urgently while being cross dressed.

The fifteen stories present such a vast array of characters who are at once likeable but at the same time feel very distant. Sometimes the stories presented are in such a simple vein that it does not even resemble a story but a mere sequencing of events, however a careful re-read is certain to bring out some nuances. Such books are rare treasures that evoke even better understanding when read for a second time.

Any Cop?: Palash has ended up presenting to us fifteen riveting tales set in India (except for one set in England) that promises to change the way in which we look at things – at once bold and brazen and at the same time tender and sensitive, these stories are proof of our verve for life.

Anantha Krishnan

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