I have no idea what gulp fiction means. Is is the kind of fiction which is so awesome that it makes you gulp? Or makes you choke with excitement? Or makes your heart stop momentarily under the thrill it creates? Whatever it is, it is a potentially amazing, rather, fatally amazing genre of fiction to experiment with. And Salil Desai, in his third book, has done a marvellous job of introducing and promoting this new and curious genre of writing in the market.
I am still gasping from the effect the second last story of this compendium - called Lost Libido and other Gulp Fiction - had on me. I could talk about that one story at length, and of course, Cul-De-Sac, the name of the story I am caught under the spell of, happens to be my favorite of the lot. It is funny, innovative, creative, weird, weirder and just so exhaustively awesome, that despite being one of the longest of this 17 story collection, I still wished it wouldn't end. I wanted it to give me more moments of hilarity. I wanted to see to what level the author's imagination could stretch. And stretch it sure can. Not so much imagination as wit and observation. Salil Desai, in this collection of short stories drawn from mundane lives of urban individuals has proven himself to be a master of both - wit, observation - and perhaps a lot more.
Lost Libido and other gulp fiction is a book which single mindedly sets out to dwell on the darker side of humans. When Angel Lucifer was expelled from Heaven and given the unholy title of Satan, he vowed to keep extracting revenge from the most dear creation of God - Man. And he did not stop at the exit gate of Garden of Eden. He followed Man to Earth, and is almost as important an influence in Man's daily activities as God, or Goodness is. Only we seek to refute this obvious fact time and again. Salil Desai's book will not paint any heavenly pictures of human existence. It will not tell you how beautiful life is, how goodness always triumphs, how truth is consistent, or how love is the basis of existence. It will show you a mirror of your lives, our lives. It will tell you how an average individual, caught in the rigmarole of routine jobs copes up with stress which his confused existence heaps on him. People today, specifically talking of India (since this book uses urban India as a backdrop), are dealing with a life which is always in flux, where competition lurks in ugly manifestations and where desires and expectations often get the better of man. If anything, Salil Desai's book will break the image of a perfect world which you conjure, very specifically in a story interestingly titled - Our Friendly Neighbourhood Murder.
Each story, which finds a place for itself in this anthology, is worth talking about individually. Very few, if any, disappoint the reader. The only reason I had of being disappointed with a few stories was that with the first two stories, Salil establishes a high standard from himself - one that as a reader you fervently hope doesn't dip at any cost. I have said this before, and I maintain - In the mad pace of life all of us have adopted for running towards nothingness with, short stories are ideal breaks one can afford to apply when distractions are sought. Only, be careful of reading a book with as promiscuous a title as "Lost Libido" in public transport. Like I did on my daily journeys in metro. People stare. But that is also fun in a way.
So, anyway, this is a 3.5 on 5 stars book for me. My favorite of the lot were -
1. Cul-De-Sac - Enough reasons explained above.
2. The Maths Conundrum - As a child, I had a horrendous time trying to cope up with the devil that mathematics was. I understood what little Nakul went through while being unable to cope up with the same, though I had no idea his predicament would acquire such tragic proportions.
3. Our Friendly Neighbourhood Murder - Dark. Awesome. Brilliant. Leaves you asking for more.
4. One Monday Morning - A whole family, spending its last happy day together. Why last? Well, read to find out. I only wish the ending gave me more.
5. A Susceptible Conscience - This story is one in which all of us, invariably, will find an echo of ourselves in. How easily we convince ourselves, how easily we think we deceive the omnipresent powers - read this one to know.