For a large part, my decision to read and review Namrata’s ‘Metro Diaries’ was a "shape-shifting" one. I have never read a collection of love stories before but not because I do not believe in fairy dust. The block was something to do with the genre. While love stories involve their kind of readers instantly I have felt they cannot challenge the readers’ minds like so many other genres can. Because, if you do not believe in love, you would not pick up a love story at all. And if you do, where’s the challenge the book is holding to your sensibility? I wanted to read love stories to understand, beyond such arm-chair presumptions, what they are about. A scholarly curiosity in general, and an honest attempt to enjoy Namrata’s book, in particular.
The twenty ‘Love Classics’ seem to be Namrata’s way to prove that love does exist, usually coming with a train of associated ideas like want, desire, lust, longing, dejection, despair and admiration. Some are diary entries while others are written like stories, though none of them conforming to the traditional form of short story. There is an earnestness in Namrata’s purpose and a loyalty to a genre that so many of us like to brush-off as ‘mush’, which shines through. Each piece in the book seems to be an affirmation that even though love is ‘that very thing that could break you completely, from inside’, it is also ‘that one thing that holds you together’. Her stories are written around this positive essence.
The stories are like snapshots into people’s love lives, with some as short as a page-and-a-half. Namrata has not spent time on characterization, thick plots or even surprising closures – either because the length is too short or because they are first person narrations in the form of diary entries revolving more around introspection than externals. What she has attempted, and which gives the book a depth and intensity in keeping with the genre, is to know the “lovers” minds; to read their thoughts and to give them expression through her writings. Like the psychology behind love. She has single-mindedly tried to gather all the streams that combine to form the powerful current of love, in order to define to herself and to us what love is all about.
There are two stories which I particularly liked, but neither can I talk about in length here. The ‘secret’ in ‘A Secret Revealed’ needs to be read to be revealed and felt. And talking about ‘The Wait’, with its introspective narrator and conflict in the end will be unfair. But I will acquaint you with the different “kinds” of love the book brings into your hands. While some may hold Namrata at fault for featuring the younger generation more prominently in ‘Metro Diaries’, they will have to acknowledge the varied forms of this emotion that she includes.
Some stories …
Some stories portray the changing dynamics and meanings of young, urban relationships in times when marriage certificates are being seen as less important than compatibility. Say, that story about a man and a woman where after eight long years ‘she wanted a name (to their relationship) and he liked it nameless. And that’s how they became ‘were’ from ‘are’. There is love resting unrequited, a written proposal coming back ‘undelivered. The recipient refused to accept the cover. Please sign this’ because not everyone can break the set ceilings of man-loves-woman, only. The obsession for observing couples in love makes a first person narrator their ‘official photographer … I loved capturing them’ in a sweet story peppered with musings and poignant with a quiet desire to ‘steal some of their magic and charisma into my own life!’ In another piece about a sister’s homecoming to her brother she ‘secretly hoped he had not outgrown his love for me just like he had outgrown his shorts.’ There is also that love which wants to defy definition, or the reasons behind its existence, by calling itself a ‘need’ – of another’s presence, voice, strength. Anything, but not ‘love’.
And then there are the usual tales too. Love that likes denial like ‘you love the rains and when it rains, you open your umbrella or stay indoors’. There is real love which does not promise the stars but support through thick-and-thin, instead, and the one which flows between two souls. There is love among school kids and college friends, widows for their husbands long gone and letters dearer than oxygen. And the pain of it all, ‘the pain of being no one to someone who became her everything.’
When I began …
When I began the book, I scribbled two pointers which I thought would make this reading for me a spectacular experience.
One, I wanted to see how each narrator sounds different from the other; unique in voice as much as in his or her idea and experience of love. Most sound like each other, and you cannot tell one from the other. Is that because the book is written heavily tilting towards character’s streams of consciousness rather than over incidents and plot? The ‘characters’ do not flesh out. And while I know Namrata’s intention was looking inwards than outwards, some visualization was needed to attribute those thoughts to flesh-and-blood.
Two, I wanted to experience the context of the lovers. A book on love from India - a place thick with neighbours and rituals, social norms and mores, family obligations and codes of conduct – could have had those colours. The smell of roses overpowers the sense of real, and while taboo-love, abusive marriages and break-ups are mentioned, they are not enough to root each story in a solid context. Perhaps, this was meant to universalize the idea of love. In that sense, it works.
I must also tell you …
I must also tell you some things the readers may possibly see as shortcomings of the writing itself. I did.
Some ideas may seem a tad typical. A clichéd setting we have either witnessed, seen in a movie or read about. While this may also be evidence of how Namrata conceived these stories out of patient observation of real people around her, it needed to rise about the typical in execution. Small town-big town, once burnt in love hence wary of a second chance, college heartthrobs and love-at-first-sight for a bright girl are four which I noted instantly.
Then, repetitions. They say all writers have some favourite expressions which find an outlet in a subconscious manner. Say for instance a phrase like ‘I cannot promise you a happily ever after but I can promise you together forever’ need not have appeared more than once. Then, too many characters cannot have the problem that ‘he did not know what he felt for her.’ Also, the wavering between ‘wants you’ and ‘needs you’ is an oft repeated sentiment. In a book which is all of 150 pages, these become glaring.
The book could have been better edited. Incorrect prepositions, incorrect words like ‘nondescreet’, in correct usage of words like ‘elude’ are slips of tongue which authors can ill-afford.
Namrata has called these stories ‘LOVE Classics.’ They are classic in that they are free from any trappings of youthful slang and fashionable language stunts. These young adults are speaking to the readers with Namrata’s maturity shining through, and Namrata’s ideas of love. By the time you reach the last page, you seem to know the author so much though not her characters apart from each other. This book then is like Namrata’s own diary. The author is herself the "central character" of her own book.
Is this what keeps the book from being as spectacular as the emotion it spins around? Saahil in ‘The Sole Soul Mate’ wonders ‘Where has all the love vanished?’ It is all there in ‘Metro Diaries’, but not as perfectly as it could have been.
Have I warmed up to the genre?
I have, to this mood-food. I have because I realize love stories are wont to carry an intensity that many other kinds of stories cannot. Their success does not lie in challenging the reader, like I mentioned before, but in tugging at the reader's emotional strings in ways never imagined before. Never seen before.
'Metro Diaries' did that to some extent, but it stopped short just when I was getting fully "involved".
[This review was commissioned by the author. Views are my own.]