The Assassination of Indira Gandhi- The Collected Stories of Upamanyu Chatterjee (Speaking Tiger Publishing) may have a title that screams for attention. This short story collection may have an apparent shock value, but it is in fact, a very nuanced and highly literary body of work. Yes, the name of this book does catch your attention. Upamanyu Chatterjee’s short story collection however, encompasses a wide range of themes.
The book comprises of 12 short stories. Some of them are truly complex, and some revel in simplicity. What is evident throughout is the humorous and satirical voice of the author. The understated humour freely sprinkled on the pages will not escape your attention. And this satire is serious literary satire.
One of the things you will definitely notice in The Assassination of Indira Gandhi is that it presents to the reader many slices of India from a unique viewpoint. The author’s background in bureaucracy again lends a different point of view to the narrative.
The stories fall into different categories, and it is quite an eclectic collection. The themes range from the personal, social to the historical. Some of the stories may be real life events. For example, “History Lesson” is about Thomas Roe and the hassle with the Mughal Nawab. It is in a sense a dig at bureaucracy. The satire of the fact that nothing has changed even today in terms of the superficial protocol is not lost on the reader! ‘Can’t Take This Shit Anymore’ is quite a gripping story about the humiliation faced by the children of manual scavengers. The dehumanizing nature of this is brought out poignantly. Robertus Heimric, Welcome Back is a hauntingly surprising story that plays upon a popular fairytale. “Foreigner” has many characters in a short story.
The short story that gives the book its title, comes towards the end of the book, while it actually was written first. A sick and tired young Sikh boy learns about the assassination of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, while recovering in the comfort of parents’ home in Mussoorie. The event of the assassination leads him to question the stability of the world.
Short stories are a world in themselves, and this book presents a cluster of different worlds. The Assassination of Indira Gandhi- The Collected Stories of Upamanyu Chatterjee is not a light weekend read, but instead needs to be treated like a true classic. Once you cut through the crust, there is a lot to explore within!