Pages from the city

Salil Desai’s collection of short fiction derives from his observations of urban life

Published - October 19, 2012 06:24 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

The writer's den: Salil Desai.

The writer's den: Salil Desai.

Having titled his collection of stories Lost Libido and other gulp fiction , author Salil Desai has some explaining to do. Fortunately for him, the libidinal question is resolved in the title story; but the expression ‘gulp fiction’ needs a little more chewing on.

“It’s a take on pulp fiction,” says Salil. “We wanted to convey that these stories can be consumed in gulps, so we decided not to go with something like other urban stories.”

In these stories, 17 in all, one sees an underachieving cricketer’s obsession to gain fame ending up in him becoming India’s first streaker, a paranoid traveller’s intuition saving and failing him at the same time, a wicked double murder plan hatched by a slip-disc ridden office-goer, and a husband’s futile journey from the loss of libido to its untimely regaining, among others. Tantalisingly titled “A Susceptible Conscience”, “Hunch on a Highway”, “Spite is Right”, “Dubious Distinction”, these stories are set in the urban India of the last 20 years.

“The universe of urban India has undergone immense change since 1991. Strange choices are put before people and because of the times we live in, they give in to darker temptations. Today’s middle class existence is, for want of a better word, amoral. Anything goes. I have tried to capture these changes,” he says.

Having previously written two novels, Body in the Back Seat and Murder on a Side Street , the move to short stories was an entirely different ballgame. “Novels are like Test cricket, and short stories are like one-day matches. You can do a lot in terms of experimentation in the shorter format, but novels require stamina.” The novels are both crime novels, and there is a considerable amount of crime in these stories as well. Although the book is dedicated to Maugham, the indebtedness to Hitchcock is also quite readily visible.

That might be because Salil is a graduate in film direction from Film and Television Institute of India, Pune. “The best thing about it was it taught me the technique of ‘showing, not telling’, which is an absolute necessity in fiction as well. It has made my writing much more visual and vivid. I’ve been lucky to have read good literature and watched good films. Somewhere one tries to distil those effects in one’s writing,” says Salil.

Forty-three now, Salil went there only as late as seven years ago, to bolster his primary occupation — making management training videos. “When I started making these videos in 2001, I realised I needed training in filmmaking,” he says.

Apart from training managers, Salil has also been conducting workshops on fiction writing for aspiring writers at the British Council libraries in Pune, where he lives, and Ahmedabad. “I teach them the nuts and bolts of writing; that writing is basically a craft, something to be learnt,” he says. Salil is now working on his third novel, a sequel to Body in the Back Seat .

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