Book: Tales to Tell Romance
Publisher: BEE Books
Available at: Amazon link: http://bit.ly/TalesToTellRomance_Amazon
Flipkart link: http://bit.ly/TalesToTellRomance_Flipkart
Tales to Tell is a creation of Kolkata Bloggers, Eastern India’s largest bloggers’ network. It invites artists and writers to submit stories and illustrations for these stories. A number of them are then selected by a jury to be published by BEE Books. This year, 25 authors and artists were published, most of them young amateur enthusiasts looking to become professionals. The theme was ‘Romance’.
I attended the book launch that was presided over by Ramona Sen (whose debut novel Crème Brûlée is out now!), Maina Bhagat (Director of Apeejay Oxford Bookstore), Iftekhar Ahsan (founder of Calcutta Walks) and Paromita Ghosh (Director of Candid Communication). Here is a very school-class-photo like picture of me with some of the writers, illustrators and organizers. It was a cool event, y’all.
I received the book there and promised Esha di (of BEE Books) that I would review it. Two months later, here it finally is. Sorry, Esha di. Procrastination sucks.
Here’s the thing: Art-Lit collabs often fail if you’re trying to put them together as one coherent structure.
I should know. Spiktinot has hosted enough collabs and enough creators with their widely divergent styles of art and literature to show that. On the blog, though, it is a plus. The diversity makes for a much more interesting range of experiences for the readers to explore. In a book? The verdict is still out on that.
Let’s start with the ones I liked.
When the topic is ‘Romance’, it’s really hard not to expect a list of heteronormative sexist BS, and I’m very happy to tell you that a lot of this book is not, in fact, heteronormative sexist BS.
The stories I particularly enjoyed were (S)He by Meghna Roy, Rolling in the Bed by Aritkik Dutta Chowdhury, The Tipping Point by Aslesha, Kheerer Putul by Purba Roy and The One-Armed Boy and Julia by Shaoni Sarkar. They were powerful, well-written, tightly plotted beauties that did an excellent job of defying expectations.
I’m not sure how Aritkik’s story belonged in the anthology from a thematic point of view, but there’s no doubt that it packed a punch. I would tell you the stories, but I liked these too much to spoil it for you. I’ll just say that the way they interpreted the idea of romance was arresting and instantly got me hooked.
Some of this book, however, was a bit upsetting.
Heteronormativity creeps into the best of intentions in the creepiest of fashions, and unfortunately the anthology was not an exception. The story called Tennyson I found to be downright disturbing. It took patriarchal ideas of the so-called ‘friendzone’ and expanded it to, of all things, a relationship between a woman and her dog. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so alarming.
A Rose for You is equally exasperating. Can we please do away with the idea that a sub-ordinate saying stuff like “It’s not my fault you’re so beautiful… It’s a gentleman’s duty to appreciate natural beauty!” after the woman has told him to shut up, is romantic in any way whatsoever? It’s harassment, not flirting.
Idea of Rohan was an interesting read from the point of view of a young girl with a head full of stars. But the juxtaposition between her dreams and reality wasn’t clear enough. Was the distinctly physical and extremely gendered relationship she saw in her head being criticised, or was it being projected as the ideal every relationship should live up to?
Given the fact that they are short stories, the tales make for extremely quick and easy reading.
The stories are so short, in fact, that sometimes it’s hard to find development in them. They start grandiosely but end too abruptly. Stories such as Photograph by Ishan Biswas, however, made excellent use of the short form, holding up brief moments to be examined through images. The Lunatic by Sayar Banerjee was another vividly imagined image-driven story.
Each story is prefaced with its own illustration.
The varying styles of the authors take some getting used to, as does the experience of seeing the very unmatched illustrations before the stories. However, some were truly genius. The story Quiet by Vasudha Rajkumar was accompanied by a truly contemporary work of art by Neha Khaitan that I loved. My outstanding favourite was the one for (S)He, by Shreya Banerjee. It was absolutely beautiful. The art style was very contemporary, but it didn’t feel derivative. That’s my jam, y’all. That’s my Art jam.
Tales to Tell is an interesting blend of art and literature and I definitely think more such anthologies ought to be brought out in India. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of the biennial anthologies of magazines like Granta that I love so much. Perhaps, from the next edition, photographs could be included as well, and something done for the illustrations to be a tad more streamlined. I would love it if the ‘production’ could be a little sleeker too. The cover of the book, for example, doesn’t do justice to its interesting collage-like contents. It’s too staid. But the best of the stories make up for all of this.
It’s definitely a great Sunday morning read, an offering from budding artists and writers from around Kolkata.
I think it goes without saying that my assessment of the stories was not done with any intent to hurt anyone personally. Furthermore, as there are more than 50 people to be considered, I couldn’t mention everyone. I just went for my favourites. However, some of my closest friends and college mates have had their Art/ Literature printed in this book. Thanks to all of them for being such inspirations, and thanks to Anirban Saha of Kolkata Bloggers and Esha Chatterjee of BEE Books for starting this initiative!
Please share this review with your friends if you liked it. See you next time on Spiktinot 🌻🌼