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Book Review: Urban Shots (Series)
Dissent: Volume 6 of the Helter Skelter Anthology of New Writing

Book Review: Urban Shots (Series)

Life has always inspired art and literature. Even the most imaginative book on aliens in outer space has some resonance with reality.

But that’s talking about stretching reality to its extreme. What if the stories you were to read were about a regular day in your city? Would they capture your interest long enough for you to reach the end? Well, any such doubts about the ability of mundane, day-to-day life to inspire great stories were laid to rest by Grey Oak Publishers, the people behind Urban Shots. They went one step further to show their confidence in the theme by adding three new books to their popular series of anthologies.

Helter Skelter: Urban Shots

I approached these books with the same skeptical eye I would use when faced with a lady selling weight-loss herbal tea. Ninety stories about Indian urban life, each different from the other? The book covers didn’t help, two of which showed a generic close-up of a girl. Simply placing a woman next to the name of the product you’re selling doesn’t fool anyone, especially a habitual cynic like me. Thankfully, reading the books left me pleasantly surprised.

As mentioned earlier, Urban Shots has introduced three new books in the series, filled with short stories written by Indian authors—some well-known and some new. Bright Lights is a compilation of stories talking of life in Indian cities in general. It covers plots as simple as a mother missing her son and a baby’s morning activities very beautifully. Crossroads deals with instances in people’s lives when they are faced with circumstances that change them, for better or for worse. Here, authors describe characters we may face on a daily basis, but never notice, like the woman who cleans our house or the man who stands next to us in a train. The third is The Love Collection, which focuses on relationships formed in our concrete jungles. These stories range from traditional arranged marriages to illicit rendezvous. My favourite story of the entire bunch is Hako by Chandrima Pal, which features in the Crossroads book. It is a story narrated by a boy who spends evenings playing with children in a neighbourhood that is transforming in front of him.

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As is the case with most anthologies, some stories were better than others. This will differ for each person, of course, based on personal taste. However, all the stories maintain similar writing styles, being informal even when talking about serious issues. Twists in plots are woven in very subtly, making them even more dramatic. Many stories have endings open to interpretation, which is something I have always enjoyed.

If you fall into the category of people who must always have a book with them, the Urban Shots series is perfect for your day-to-day bag. It’s a good option for a break from the glare of the screen or long commutes home from work. You never know, the person you read about might be sitting right next to you.

[Grey Oak/Westland; Bright Lights: ISBN 9789381626412; Crossroads: ISBN 9789381626429; The Love Collection: ISBN 9789381626474]
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