Breathless in Bombay by Murzban F. Shroff
St. Martin’s Griffin, 2008 (ARE)
Fiction (short stories); 306 pgs
Rating: 4 Stars (Very Good)
First Sentence: Mataprasad Mahadev, fifty-three, dark, and fiercely mustached, was in a thoughtful mood as he sat legged in dhoti and chappals on the floor of the luggage compartment of the Churchgate-bound local.
Reason for Reading: India is one of many countries I enjoy reading about and so I was immediately drawn to this book when it was offered for review through Library Thing’s Early Review program. This also fits in with the Short Story Challenge, and is my first selection of short stories counting towards that.
Comments: Author Murzban F. Shroff attempts to capture the dichotomy of Bombay, both the beauty and the ugliness, and he succeeds. Fourteen short stories offer a glimpse into the cultures and lives of every day people in Bombay, from the rich to the working class to the poor.
Often my biggest complaint about short stories is reaching the end and wondering, "That's it?" That was not the case with Murzban F. Shroff's collection of stories. Each story stood on solid ground, the characters well developed in their complexities and lifestyles and the stories quickly and effectively established. There was not one story that I did not like, each a stand out in its own way. The fourteen stories that made up the collection were varied, some dark and sad while others more hopeful. Each of them was about the struggles of survival in a city where people flocked to for a better life and fought to survive in at the darkest of times.
Among my favorites was the story of Chacha Sawari and his horse Badshah in The Queen Guards Her Own. Chacha was a man who took pride in his work and loved his horse. He did not have much in the later years of his life, and yet he made the best of it, always looking out for Badshah. Even amidst the poverty and prejudice of the wealthy, Chacha remained hopeful. Then there was the story, The Great Divide, about an elderly woman and her husband who had taken in a servant. A recent rash of murders of elderly by their servants set Mrs. Mullafiroze on edge and she feared for her own life and that of her husband. A Different Behl and This House of Mine demonstrated the depth of good friendships while Jamal Hoddi's Revenge showed a man with nothing to lose in his darkest hour. There was a story of love lost in Traffic, and love found in Breathless in Bombay, the final story of the book.
Murzban did not hesitate to paint a colorful picture of Bombay throughout his stories, including the warts of the disparity between the poor and the wealthy, prejudice, the clash of tradition and progress, as well as the corruption and greed. And yet, woven within the stories was also hope, the love of family and the power of friendship and community. Breathless in Bombay took me right onto the streets of Bombay and into the lives of the various characters.