Potluck is a collection of short stories and reflections by a group of writers who came together after attending Creative Writing Courses by Renu Balakrishnan at Xavier’s Institute of Communications, Mumbai.
From the intimate to pure fantasy, from first person experiences to travelogues, Potluck is a collection of stories and reflections by a group of Mumbai-based writers from diverse backgrounds. Working mothers, single women, senior executives, a Catholic priest, a Hindu monk, and a writer from Slovenia, are all a part of the Critique Group. You might relive a fond or long-lost memory or be happily transported into a new world as you savour the stories.
Potluck has a very interesting mix of stories as well as writers, as is evident from the blurb of the book. By and large, the book makes for a very good read as the stories are all short, yet pretty engaging. I am the kind who likes some light reading before bed and this book fits that bill perfectly.
The stories range from the familiar to the introspective. The language is easy to understand and the authors have taken pains to work on the setting for each of their stories.
‘Balloons‘ by Aby Sam Thomas is a lovely piece, set on the suburban Mumbai train. The pace is just right and the ending leaves you sad and touched, reflecting on the human spirit.
Bhavini Merchant- Dayal’s ‘The Peas, The Peck and the Pickles‘ makes for a combined delightful read, which will tug at your heartstrings, especially if you are a parent.
‘Let your Hair down‘ by Manish Goel is a humorous and thought-provoking piece, written in the first person which resonates with readers, because of the autobiographical element. The fact that the author is a recently-turned monk adds to the pull of the story.
Two stories which really stood out for me were ‘ The Seamstress’ story’ by Marija Sres and ‘Ma’s calling’ by Renu Balakrishnan. The former has such an authentic voice, picking out the stark truth of the Mumbai slums that it leaves you teary-eyed at the end. The latter, a short and powerful fiction piece, will leave you gasping with shock.
Renu, the writer and the instructor of the creative writing workshop, has done wonderful justice to the moulding of each story. For a generation which thrives on short fiction pieces, given the paucity of time and attention span, this book is a great buy.
The cover of the book could have been a bit more appealing, as the colours and the images are not as enticing as I would have expected. I know the idea about not judging a book by its cover, but the colour scheme and illustration could have done with some work.
In some stories, the range of description was a bit overwhelming. Although I enjoy reading descriptive writing, an overdose of anything becomes unpalatable. Whereas some stories used description to their advantage, others like ‘A Weekend at Aspect Hall’ and ‘Bridges‘ spent too much time on the periphery of the plot. As a result, my interest in the story waned, when it should have been rising. ‘Clandestine Lover‘ similarly was too short and did not do enough with the story, as it could have.
The only long story in the book, ‘Survivors‘ by Myron J.Pereira, set in the backdrop of the 26/11 terror attack in Mumbai was a notable mixture of fiction and fact. While the story began well and also had a bit of adult content thrown in, the pace was not sustained effectively until the end. The conclusion was a bit of a dampener, to be honest.
Renu Balakrishnan’s efforts must be commended. The fact that the writers manage to maintain their individual voices, despite attending the same workshop, is a testament to her ability as a discerning teacher and prolific writer. On the whole, the book is a good option for those who like light fiction, written in a narrative, anecdotal style.
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