Written by Deepti Paikray, ‘Stories at my Doorstep’ is a collection of 14 essays & 7 short stories. The writer lives in New Jersey, but is from Uttarakhand, and is married to an Odia. As a result, the subtle flavours of Odisha permeate the book, tempered to perfection by generous sprinklings of American life & garnished with tempting snippets of Delhi & Mumbai.
Ms. Paikray’s essays and tales deal with day-to-day stuff, ranging from something as mundane as a cooking pot to slow walks by the Hudson. The language is simple, lucid and vividly descriptive. I could inhale the smokiness of the chena poda prepared with love by her bou (mother-in-law), as it wafted across the crisp pages. I closed my eyes and lost myself amidst the melodious squawks of Mithu the parakeet. My heart skipped a beat and wanted to know what happened to Chumki, the seller of trinkets in Mumbai locals.
Being a naïve kid from the 80s, many articles resonated with me. I am sure readers would reach out to hug the innocent Kuna as he waited with bated breath to receive a gift from his ‘foreign returned’ relative only to meet with disappointment at the end. Memories of a bygone era trickled in as the author demanded abhada (food cooked for Lord Jagannath) for her daughter’ birthday. As children, we dismissed home cooked food and yearned for ‘hotel’ stuff. Yet, with age and wisdom, we started to appreciate the simplicity and reverence in food.
The stories deal with eternal topics like love and acceptance spanning across continents. A widowed Alka comes to terms with the untimely demise of her husband, and finally embraces the vibrant paithani saree, much to the shock and delight of her children. An educated Revathi who has a scant disregard for horoscopes develops a deep bond with a pipal tree. These are universal emotions found not just in the inconspicuous looking trains of New Jersey or reflected in the eyes of squeaking kids in the snow. They traverse to the noisy by-lanes of Delhi, finding their voice in a peanut vendor. They hover around the Chilika, like the apparition of Jaai. And then, as suddenly as they come, they leave, flapping their wings incessantly, like the crows accompanying kak bhai.
Being a fast reader, I finished this book in a weekend. It kept me engaged, made me smile, and made me hungry. How I wished I could just pack my bags and go to Puri, partake of the prasad, gorge on some singhadas (samosas, as they are called in Bengal & Odisha) or take a walk in an orchid, surrounded by chrysanthemums and gulmohars. If I have to nit-pick, I wonder how it would have been if the essays had been converted to short stories or vice versa. Nevertheless, that grouse doesn’t take away the delight of reading this book. The writer proves one does not need to resort to complicated plots and prompts to write riveting stuff. All one should do is look around. A burnt cheesecake might just provide you the impetus to come up with your next anthology.
I wish the author much success in her future endeavours.
Cover pic – The book was a giveaway and was accompanied by hand-painted coasters & a bookmark by Piyusha Vir