IN A country with a thriving publishing industry, Motilal Boodoosingh’s Kal Kahanis: Stories of Yesteryear would have likely found a home. Simple and unpretentious, the stories included in this collection edited by poet Shivanee Ramlochan, are both endearing and revealing, offering glimpses of country life among an Indian population that struggles with relationships.
Harking back to bygone days when life was uncomplicated, the narrator’s nostalgia conveys both humour and longing for simpler pleasures like a trip to the barbershop – even though the barber was mean and unskilled.
The men struggling to regain the favour of their wives and women fighting for land and love combine to form a legion of strong characters who demand readers’ attention. Defined by their religion and hindered because of their challenges to communicate their feelings, the characters who surface in these short stories often engage in emotional posturing or outright violence – some form of exaggeration – to make their presence felt and known.
Most importantly, they are “characters” in the true sense of the word, a vanishing breed of quirky, ambitious, humorous and demonstrative lovers, schemers and lawbreakers that once defined Trinidad and were captured by writers like VS Naipaul and Sam Selvon. There is a constant juxtaposition between the sweetness and the violence found in the country with a fair share of stories that feature religious schemers. Boodoosingh moves seamlessly from one emotion to the other creating a multi-layered, authentic picture of rural Trinidadians.
He captures his characters with a masterful use of understatement, a difficult feat to pull off. Even the endings are understated. The author does an admirable job as well showing his characters and stories rather than telling them. Readers feel as though they experience country life and know these characters because of the author’s gift for description.
There’s a good balance between narration and dialogue, although sometimes I would have liked to see more dialogue because it is so witty and revealing.
The biggest issue is a steady succession of short, clipped sentences. While this helps to convey the simplicity of the stories and establishes tone, there needs to be more sentence variation. Short, clipped sentences help somewhat to advance the plot and speed up the pace of the story, but some longer, flowing, complex sentences strategically placed in his writing would allow Boodoosingh to convey a variety of emotions. Longer sentences can be used to slow readers so they appreciate a setting or pause to reflect on the author’s thoughts.
Layout could also be more effective. An extra double space between paragraphs is disconcerting: it causes readers to pause unnaturally and it breaks up the flow of thought.
But minor faults aside, Kal Kahanis: Stories of Yesteryear captures the rich history of TT by placing characters in a nostalgic aura. I would like to see the author attempt a novel, which I feel could be submitted to the Bocas Lit Fest. There is much promise here, and there should be a place for this author with an established publisher.