Video: Stories

Overview

In ten stories that read like parables, Meera Nair depicts contemporary Indian life with fierce precision and an irresistible blend of humor, wit, and pathos, firmly establishing herself as a striking new voice in Indian fiction.

An American porn flick wreaks havoc on the life of an Indian man, much to the dismay of his wife. A young man?s uncanny gift for sculpting statues out of sand makes the women of his village swoon?until the men plot to put a stop to it. A small town of ...

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Video: Stories

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Overview

In ten stories that read like parables, Meera Nair depicts contemporary Indian life with fierce precision and an irresistible blend of humor, wit, and pathos, firmly establishing herself as a striking new voice in Indian fiction.

An American porn flick wreaks havoc on the life of an Indian man, much to the dismay of his wife. A young man’s uncanny gift for sculpting statues out of sand makes the women of his village swoon–until the men plot to put a stop to it. A small town of “utter inconsequence” prepares excitedly for a visit from President Clinton. This stunning debut collection offers brilliant snapshots of life’s small reversals and a broad-stroke portrait of our times.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“Magical. . . . Video is that rarity, a first collection whose every story charts new areas in human relationships.” –The Washington Post

“Echo[es] the magic realism and mythic overtones of Arundhati Roy and Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni. . . . Video reveals the budding talent of an assured, accomplished writer.” –San Francisco Chronicle

“The writing is juicy; the details lovely, luscious bits of description that waft pungently from the Subcontinent with true Indian-style density.” –Los Angeles Times

“Sure-footed and telling, filled with powerful observations and sentences of lyric beauty. . . . [Video] revels in . . . the stunning collisions between ancient ritual and contemporary reality that are everyday occurrences in India.” –Chicago Tribune

“A gifted writer with a flair for storytelling, Nair creates passionate, distinctive characters, establishing herself as a writer to watch.” –USA Today

“Powerful. . . . Emotionally nuanced. . . . Flawlessly executed. . . . Taken together, [these stories] span a wide swath of Indian experience. . . . [An] accomplished collection.” –Vogue

“These stories are stunning: sensuous and touching and beautifully crafted. . . . I’ve never met Meera Nair, but I feel I’ll be listening to her for a very long time to come.” –Pico Iyer

“Memorable and moving. . . . Poignant. . . . Nair captures the voices of her countrymen to mesmerizing effect.” –The Oregonian

“Impressive . . . striking. . . . Comparable to Jhumpa Lahiri’s Pulitzer winner Interpreter of Maladies, and very probably the beginning of a fine career.” –Kirkus Reviews

“Indelible. . . . A quietly defiant work of gentle emotion.” –The Austin Chronicle

“Masterful. . . . Unflinching. . . . Abound[ing] with authenticity.” –The Washington Times

Publishers Weekly
In her witty, imaginative debut story collection, Nair dramatizes short, intense episodes in the lives of Indians at home and in America, baring their ambitions and frustrations in vivid prose, with a simplicity informed by psychological wisdom. In "The Curry Leaf Tree," a young man gifted with a sense of smell that enables him to discern the ingredients of any dish loses his gift in his teens and regains it years later, shortly after his arranged marriage takes place. He is thrilled by this new development, but his ill-tempered new wife finds his obsession with food irritating and resists his attempts to instruct her in the fine art of cooking. In "The Sculptor of Sands," a young sculptor makes artistic strides after finding the body of a woman buried in the sand on a beach near his home; his final project in a daring series transforms violent death into breathtaking beauty. Violence is closer to the surface in "Summer," in which a young girl acting the part of a princess in a family play can no longer act her part after the boy-cousin who plays the prince sexually molests her. The title story describes the marital havoc following a previously sexually repressed man's thrilling introduction to porn. Tragic irony is brought home with unassuming seriousness in such stories as "A Warm Welcome to the President, Insh'Allah!" in which a small Indian town prepares (unnecessarily, as it happens) for a visit from its hero, President Clinton. Throughout, Nair's ear for dialogue is spot-on, and varying degrees of rage, exhilaration or confusion are crisply expressed. Her characters' cries of angst can sometimes seem familiar, but all 10 of these stories are winningly and smartly executed. (Apr. 16) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"Incredible," proclaims the publicist of this debut collection featuring characters undergoing tumultuous change. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A strong sense of character and place, and an impressive variety of themes and tones, distinguish this striking debut collection by a talented Indian-born American writer. The ten stories, set in both India and the US, frequently deal with culture contrast and shock, and make especially good use of narrators and viewpoint characters who only partially understand the experiences they're relating. For example, preadolescent Chik-Chik, a restaurant delivery boy whose romantic fascination with "The Lodger in Room 726" trembles-as he scarcely realizes-on the brink of a first sexual experience; or the young girl (in "Summer") who's molested while (literally) "play-acting" with her teenaged cousin; or the orphaned protagonist of "My Grandfather Dreams of Fences," who must grow up before he grasps the motivating forces of his eponymous relative's harsh treatment of less prosperous neighbors. The distances between people are also subtly traversed in the bittersweet title piece, about a mild-mannered husband whose chance viewing of a Western porn film troubles his relationship with his conservative wife; and the moving "Sixteen Days in December," in which a young journalist's conflicted feelings for her stroke-ridden father (and mentor) are observed against a background of heightening Hindu/Muslim violence. The best stories are those animated by the more unusual premises: notably "The Sculptor of Sands," about a young artist whose discovery of a dead woman's body sharpens his empathy and imagination to the point where he becomes a legendary-and, ultimately, mysteriously elusive-local figure; and "The Curry leaf Tree," an intriguing fable in which young Dilip Alva, born with "a most sensitive nose"that enables him to distinguish subtle flavor combinations, survives the loss of his "gift," a traumatic relocation to America, and a rickety marriage to "a woman capable of serving mass-produced, cheese-covered pizza, out of spite." Comparable to Jhumpa Lahiri's Pulitzer-winner, Interpreter of Maladies, and very probably the beginning of a fine career.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385721035
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/11/2003
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.19 (w) x 7.97 (h) x 0.55 (d)

Meet the Author

Meera Nair was born and raised in India and came to the United States in 1997 to study creative writing. She received an M.A. from Temple University and an M.F.A. from New York University, where she was a New York Times fellow. Her stories have been published in The Threepenny Review and Calyx. Nair lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daughter.
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Read an Excerpt

Naseer lay beside his wife in the dark and wished he had never seen that video. He blamed it for all the trouble they had been having lately. He knew Rasheeda was angrier than she had ever been in all their years of marriage. Ever since he first asked her the question, she had flung her silence at him. But that was only during the day, in front of the rest of the family. At night, after the children were asleep, she hadn't been so quiet. Now, with his blood cooling, he thought of mollifying her as he had done for many nights lately, and making her understand with clear, logical, unemotional explanations why he needed her to do this for him. She was his wife, for God's sake. He had rights, didn't he?

"Rasheeda! Listen–" he began.

"Fifteen years we've been married and now you want me to do this–this thing!" His wife sat up abruptly, reached for her nightgown, and thrust her head into it.

Oh God, here she goes again.

"Allah, please put some sense into this man. Is this a good thing to ask your wife to do? I've had three of his children and now he asks me for this . . ." Her voice was muffled but the aggrieved tone came through loud and clear.

She acts as if she has a Star TV channel blasting directly into Allah's living room. As if He's just waiting there, eager to listen to Madam Rasheeda. Naseer knew the situation was serious, but he couldn't help smiling in the dark.

"Allah, he has gone mad. His body's noise is louder than any voice of reason," Rasheeda continued.

Why does she talk so loud? Naseer twisted his head around to make sure the door to the children's bedroom was closed. She will probably wake the children and his brothers and their wives and his mother the way she's carrying on. Surely his brothers didn't have troubles like his: a recalcitrant wife who sat up in bed at night and belligerently talked to her God.

He looked at her now as she sat marooned in the middle of the bed. The light from the streetlamp filtered through the cotton curtains, turning her broad back pale blue. It was hot and still and Naseer shivered involuntarily as the sweat on his legs dried.

A few nights ago, he had even cited the teachings of the mullahs exhorting Muslim wives to listen to their husbands in all things. But then she was hardly the sort to be frightened by the mullahs, not with her direct line to Allah.

"But Allah, I'll tell you one thing. Never shall I submit to this man's whims. I'll do my duty as a wife, but where is it written that I have to do such things?" Rasheeda's monologue showed no signs of flagging.

That last bit was for his benefit, not Allah's, thought Naseer as he reached for his pajamas at the foot of the bed. And what was this about doing her duty as a wife? When she was in bed with him, she didn't just lie there hating it like some other women he had heard about. He should know. She liked the stroking and rubbing all right. Not that there had been too much of that lately. Take tonight. He hadn't cared to slip his hand down her body and finish her off. He'd asked her right in the middle of it all, gasping the question at her, shameless in his need. But once again she said no, shaking her head from side to side, her eyes tightly closed. So he had ended it quickly and not bothered with her at all. But it wasn't right, and he didn't like it. Naseer shifted uncomfortably on the far side of the bed. He liked his fingers being swallowed up in her slopes and ridges and bumps, in that hidden, miniature landscape all her own. He liked having her face turned up at him, her eyes gone far away to the place where her feeling was building. He liked her giggling, embarrassed because she thrashed about so much. She'd always giggled, ever since the first time, a few months after their wedding when he had finally stumbled on how to pull her across the threshold of fear and nervousness to pleasure.

Her complaints to Allah done at last, Rasheeda lay down, taking care to not brush against him in the muggy dark. Everything had been fine right until the moment he sat down on the black rattan chair in Khaleel's shadowed living room and the video player was turned on.

Naseer had gone over to his cousin Khaleel's place to ask his opinion about a new van he wanted to buy. He'd use it to deliver hardware supplies from his store to customers who phoned in their orders. One had to move with the times. Khaleel had his own auto repair shop and could pick out a bad vehicle from a good one by merely listening to the sound of its engine, like a doctor to a patient's chest. Nusrat, his second brother's wife, had called loudly after him from the kitchen window as he opened the gate and stepped out into the street. "It's kababs tonight, so don't be late. You know how Rasheeda won't eat without you."

Adnan, thin and gangly, with Rasheeda's fine, flyaway hair, was playing cricket in the street in front of the house. After a quick sideways glance confirming that his father had stopped to watch him, he gazed seriously at the ball. Old Janaki Ram was sitting on his stoop in his striped undershorts, customary teacup in hand.

"Your boy is hitting four after four today," he said. Naseer smiled and rubbed at his beard to hide his pride.

A few minutes into Adnan's turn at the wicket, Naseer started down the street and Adnan lifted his hand off the bat for a second in farewell. Naseer fought an impulse to tell Adnan to go home before it got too dark. He was fourteen and Naseer didn't want to embarrass him in front of his friends.

The street barely managed to squeeze between the buildings that lined its length. The houses scrunched up against each other and in the shadows of the late evening they seemed to draw closer together, huddling over the street like gossipy old women. The houses around here had hardly changed from when his father's father had first moved in here. Naseer looked up affectionately at the lacy wooden balconies, their curlicued railings still overhung with the saris housewives had forgotten to take inside from the sun. As he walked he greeted the men resting from the heat on the porches, old men who, with the memories of his father still fresh in them, expected him to stop and inquire respectfully about the gout or kidney stones or unemployed son they suffered from.

Here and there transistor radios played softly, the tinny voice of Lata Mangeshkar singing a song about being stricken sleepless by love. One stanza flowed into another, accompanying him from porch to porch all the way down until he turned the corner onto Khaleel's street.

Here the houses around him were newer. Bright whitewashed walls shouldered up against worn stone flared and dimmed in the light of passing cars. A shiny black Fiat jutted out of a gate, taking up street space. Khaleel's place was the last one, just before the street curved away at an angle.

When Naseer got to the door the house was dark, yet he could see the TV's staccato flicker in the living room through the opaque windowpane. At his knock the TV was switched off. Khaleel took his time to answer the door.

"Oh! It's you. I thought it was Baba come back from Madras early," Khaleel said, wiping his palm down the front of his shirt.

Khaleel's father had a twenty-year-old property dispute that came up for a hearing every few years and took him away from home. The old man's tenacity had become a joke in the family.

"I rented a VCR for the day–thought I'd watch some films. You know how Baba is so strict and all, not allowing us to do anything." Khaleel moved aside to let Naseer in.

"All the women kissing men in broad daylight in front of the children, this TV sheevee will destroy the country yet . . ." Naseer mimicked his uncle's disgruntled old man's voice.

Khaleel didn't laugh as he usually did.

Looking at his cousin now, Naseer thought, as he had many times before, how strange it was that all the men in his family were short and wiry and bearded.

"So what're you watching? Anything with Amitabh in it?" Naseer loved the actor. When Sholay had been released, he had seen it five times.

"No," Khaleel said. "Come on in and see for yourself."

When Khaleel switched on the VCR, there were two foreigners on the screen–a woman and a man. The man lay on the bed and the woman knelt between his legs. White skin, golden hair, smooth nakedness. She bent down. Then she opened her mouth over him. After one frozen minute of incredulity, everything inside Naseer contracted. He put his hands over his stomach as if to contain the faint tremors he felt starting. He watched the woman, her movements sometimes languid, sometimes frenzied, her cheeks working. It was unbelievable that any woman would admit a man inside her face, to touch her tongue and her teeth and the inside of her cheeks. The two of them seemed bound together in some extreme ecstasy, the man watching the woman looking at him. They took a long time to finish. Watching the man as he arched on the bed, Naseer felt as if he was about to lose control and slide off the chair trembling and moaning–right there in Khaleel's mother's living room with its bright blue carpet and showcase filled with the ceramic dogs her daughter had sent from Dubai.

Naseer got up abruptly and mumbled something to Khaleel about coming back another time. Moving toward the door, Naseer saw himself reflected indistinctly on the TV screen, his shadowy form moving closer as he neared the set. Khaleel barely acknowledged his departure, and his eyes, glittering in the blue light, remained riveted on the screen.

Outside, Naseer leaned against the wall and breathed deeply. He could feel the rough stubble of its surface pressing against his shoulder blades and back through the thin muslin of his kurta. The wall was uncomfortably warm.

He couldn't bring himself to walk just yet, not with this hot weight in him, as if everything inside had descended to settle around his lower stomach and thighs. It was almost pain but not quite, he thought, shocked at the great scrabbling need that stretched down his middle. There had been a time when he was twenty-three and just married to Rasheeda when he could go four times a night. The greediness of a recent virgin–that's what it had been. The need had been a constant unfulfilled thrum in him. Now here it was again, as if someone had plucked hard at a taut string that ran from his head down to his toes.

When he finally pushed himself away from the wall and started walking home, he felt grateful that the old men on the stoops had gone inside to their dinners. He had heard the boys who hung around the college cafeteria snicker about things like this a long time ago, but it had always remained some mythic thing that occurred elsewhere, not in a home, not on an ordinary bed.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Table of Contents

Video 3
The Lodger in Room 726 26
The Sculptor of Sands 39
Sixteen Days in December 50
Summer 74
A Warm Welcome to the President, Insh'Allah! 89
The Curry Leaf Tree 105
My Grandfather Dreams of Fences 129
A Certain Sense of Place 150
Vishnukumar's Valentine's Day 170
Acknowledgments 193
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