Bombay Bhel is a collection of nine short stories. All these stories are based in Bombay, a city in western India just off the coast of the Arabian Sea. Thanks to the author’s craftsmanship, Bombay is alive as character. In story after story we find the familiar landmarks of Bombay. While all these landmarks are presented realistically, what makes it a living reality in art is the ability of the author to give some sort of aura to factual details.
These stories contain a world of commoners and ordinary folk such as a street vendor Hasan who becomes a victim of riots, Amit who lost his leg, and Sachin whose shop was recently looted. The excitement and tension that prevail in these characters are authentically portrayed by the author. Readers get attached to these and started to feel their pain and suffering, and for that the author should be congratulated.
The prominence of local food in the stories justifies the title of the book. The readers who do not live in Bombay will definitely get a taste Mumbaikars enjoy almost on a regular basis. Ken is such a gifted craftsman that these food items come alive in these stories.
Some of the topics raised in these stories are really grave. For example, the first story of the book brings light on the strong religious tension between Hindus and Muslims. The story carries forward this critical debate within the parameters of a beautifully woven storyline. Likewise the debate regarding the arranged marriages has been raised strikingly.
So, how do we get about assessing Ken’s achievement? The very simplicity of the stories seems to set a problem. There is so little on which to expatiate intellectually, analyse, expound, and fathom the depth of. And yet the naivete of the author has a quality that haunts us as only art can, when it stands on its own without any peripheral attractions or distractions.
Words of caution: Do not read these stories with an empty stomach!
I thank the author for providing me the review copy.