The seventeen sharply observed short stories are infused with a melancholic aura, somewhat reminiscent of a Fitzgeraldian landscape. We move past the gilded gates of Delhi society, and mingle with people who are comfortable in their Dior shoes, their big cars and farmhouses at the edges of the city - but still struggling with a dark cloud overhead, yearning for something else. This cloud takes many forms, such as: aspirations for greater wealth; the longing for someone else's wife; jealousy over the lost affections of one's own wife; desires to explore the world outside the gated mansions; or nostalgia for a lost past.
Not all his characters are restricted to those who own the golden gates though. Vadehra quietly observes the invisible people who serve within the gates too. We see different kinds of relationships between employer and employee - whether it is the chauffeur, the caterer at a party, the man servant or the office worker. In 'A Date at Paharganj' the fate meted out to the loyal chauffeur, by the patriarch, feels especially cruel and heart breaking, but also, very likely.
One imagines that when Vadehra observes people, his mind must work like a stop motion camera capturing hundreds of frames per second - and then distilling. It is this unflinching observation of the micro moments that makes each story surprising, and sometimes familiar. Almost like a sense of deja vu. So although the world of wealth he describes may be unfamiliar to many, it is in the details - the interactions and emotional life of his characters that we still find a universality that may resonate with our own memories.
Aseem Vadehra\'s \'A Chance at Happiness, A collection of short stories\' is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
Vadehra uses his locations in interesting ways. He can tell his story within the confines of four walls or take us through multiple locations. In 'At the Eye Doctor' a man and his wife sit patiently in a doctor's waiting room, the husband with his eyes dilated, rests his head on his wife's shoulder, peacefully content. In this simple and seemingly undramatic setting, Vadehra creates a convincing story by examining the thoughts that pass through the husband's mind. In 'A Date at Paharganj' he takes us through a whirlwind of locations (Chennai, an airplane, the airport, Pahargunj, Jama Masjid, and a 5 star hotel) and gives us a riveting story about a self satisfied lump of a man, about to get married, whose peace is shattered when an attractive foreigner crosses his path.
As Vadehra focusses mainly on Delhi, we move past many familiar destinations right from Hauz Khas Village to Noida. This, coupled with his realistic vignettes leaves one with a sense of having seen the people in the stories. Perhaps it was that sudden face we saw gliding by in a stylish car; or that well dressed girl in a cafe waiting for someone.
The book is an authentic portrait of one of the many faces that Delhi has got and a thoroughly enjoyable read.
A Chance at Happiness, A collection of short stories By Aseem Vadehra is published by Roli Books
(Shoili Kanungo is a Delhi-based graphic designer, and avid reader.)