Review – “Name, Place, Animal, Thing” by Vrinda Baliga

Name, Place, Animal, Thing by Vrinda Baliga is a collection of 10 short stories, which I picked up on the suggestion of a fellow reader on a social media group (and also when it was free to download on the kindle 😛 ) speaking about the lives of people and things and places far away in an unconventional yet familiar manner.

1. At Loose Ends – Puppets and puppeteers, one can never know who handles whose strings. One in the Rann Utsav, another in the city, father and son try to figure out their entangled lives with an unexpected end.

2. Name, Place, Animal, Thing – Having born in the 90s meant a mediocre life, from school to home to school with little or no social life as such. Whatever friendship was there, was limited to school or sometimes within the colony one lived in. More so, the tepid response of the parents in ours, as well as their own personal lives, was a spoilsport. Just imagine what the 80s would have been! So when a young girl with a vibrant tongue and dreams comes along and challenges the ways (read help her friend in retaliating against the wrong), why does another feel insecure?

3. Stranger Anxiety – The 14 months old girl is anxious about her grandfather when she comes to stay with him for the first time, but unknown to her and her mother, he too is suffering from stranger anxiety. Lonely in his old age, the grandfather is happy to accommodate his granddaughter and her mother into his home, and not worrying about the marriage of his daughter which is about to break apart and which, in the first place is the reason that brought them to his home. Is he being selfish?

4. Siege – One thinks technology can’t be mixed with history, while the other believes that technology is the way ahead. Both think what the other does is worthless. With opposing ideologies, how do the father and son duo strike a balance together?

5. Preparing for Life in a Dead Man’s Home – Having given up during mid-exam, the narrator is facing a strained relationship with her mother, who had high hopes of seeing her into the IIT. When the narrator assumes that their neighbor has died in the Tsunami in Phuket, she takes temporary refuge in his home stealthily and finds herself more at peace than she ever is in her home these days.

6. A Holiday in Goa – Two families, husbands and wives, kids, and a long drive. Family secrets, love, and discords are out in the open. Will they survive the vacation, or will they go back to a broken home.

7. Bon Sai – Introvert Arushi finds herself opening up to her landlady Mrs. Bhat, a widow whose only refuge was in her Bonsai garden that she maintained on her terrace. Amidst the ever complaining daughter-in-law and her love for her plants, Mrs. Bhat has to date managed to look after her babies, but for how long?

8. Packers and Movers – Moving houses has always been a tough task, but when Simi and her husband move to Hyderabad, they find this opportunity a much-needed break from their monotonous, pretend life that they were living just to fit into their social group, which had moved to the next stage of parenthood, unfortunately leaving them behind.

9. Fifteen Minutes of Fame – Old enough to be a grandmother, old enough to be a senior citizen and old enough to be sick and be on the bed and ultimately die. But never old enough to do what you love and what keeps you going in an otherwise mundane life.

10. The Everlasting Car – The sudden influx of electronic and mechanical appliances in the 1980s had led to the narrator’s father getting wide-eyed for anything new that came his way, and that stuff always found a place in his home. The narrator, as a child knew what it meant to have the firsts, something which his children would never know, let alone appreciate.

There are very few contemporary Indian authors whom I admire and become a fan of, and I didn’t know Vrinda Baliga would be amongst them when I picked up her book. Having checked her profile as soon as I was done with the first story, I knew I would be in for a treat. An editor never makes mistakes while writing her own book! The language and narration were a breeze, and I felt myself flowing along (needed dictionary at times, thank God for Kindle versions of such books!) The analogy used is so so apt, humorous and serious at the same time. I am glad I took a chance and downloaded this book, if not I would surely have missed on a great piece of writing.
Deriving its name from a game we Gen Y people used to play as kids, this book is true to it. Telling stories of an era gone, it takes the reader down the memory lane, reminiscing about the times that were.
It is a true master puppeteer, the city; it has the puppets themselves fooled, even as it works their strings to some unheard melody of its own.
It wasn’t an uncommon thing in those days for us to dream of the big things, the city, the shoo-sha, the brands, the vacations (in my case, and still is) and the exuberant lifestyle of the rich along with our need to have them for us as well. But in the race to have it all, we never realized when our strings changed hands and we no longer remained masters of our own lives.
And love? Sure, her parents loved each other, but in a tepid, worn-out way.
Perhaps they hadn’t started out that way. She personally couldn’t imagine it, but perhaps they had once been zestful people too. Even so, it was undeniable that they had allowed life to flatten them into, well, “parents”.

During the times when our parents were not our friends, what perception did we hold for them? On similar lines, if not the same as above. Our parents and their parents and theirs too, and so back to generations ago, none were to know that a child’s first friend is supposed to be his/her parent until recently. A lot of things would have been simpler and more fun, and a lot of things wouldn’t have taken a toll on the lives of the young ones and forced them to take drastic steps, had our parents known the weightage of “I understand you”, from them to us. There are exceptions, like always, and luckily, I and my sister have been amongst those children whose primary friends were their parents (mother to be precise) in their growing up years and still is.
Vinod and Ekta call themselves “the reverse orphans”. Disguised as jokes, gritty little truths are easier to swallow. I understand that well enough.
When I was young, I always had the attention of my grandparents whenever I went to their place during the vacations. I felt no need for any other kind of entertainment apart from their made-up stories and anecdotes. As time elapsed and the internet took over, life took a steady turn towards it, obliterating such moments completely. Today, instead of visiting them, I video chat, and instead of asking them loads of questions, I google. Similarly, our kids will learn from us, and they will have the same relationship with us as we have with our grandparents. Since when did relations become only about one’s comfort and fitting into the planner? Are they so cheap that they can be replaced by the mechanical stuff available?
Technology and history don’t mix, he tells them. Besides,  the very idea that a phone would replace a human is simply ridiculous…
Remember the days when our fathers used to roll down the window and ask the tea stall owner or the odd hawker in the sweltering heat for directions when visiting some distant relative? Or the time when he used to book a taxi from the nearest stand, days in advance to have us dropped to the railway station in the wee hours of the morning, and how we used to enjoy without knowing whether his attempts will be fruitful *which usually were) or will we miss the train. All those old memories come rushing on days when we have trouble navigating/finding the correct location on the Google maps, or when that Uber/Ola driver ditches us at the last moment. How we wish that life were simple again, that we could rely on our dads once again to sail us through, without the help of the technology that has engulfed us.
Stuck like Mr. Naidu’s plants in the pots that once gave them sustenance but now hold them prisoner, tethered to their doom.
Our parents’ dream or ours? In the midst of all the competition, when do we lose ourselves to follow something that we don’t want to? And when we don’t live up to it, doesn’t it feel like being strangled by the same things that once we were so close to? It is easy to blame each other for our failures, but difficult to own up to it and try again. Life would have been simpler, and a lot of parent-child relationships stronger had both the parties known the importance of opening up and letting others speak. More often, let the child speak.
But, even dust can be insidious. It remains to be seen what damage this day, this holiday will do. For now, though, the damage remains underground, out of sight – one more of those invisible fault-lines that lay buried in every marriage, that either remain dormant forever or, one day, crack it in two.
Having been married for almost three years now, I know what it takes to keep it strong and going. Love alone is not enough to make two people live their lives together. The most important factor is trust, on each other, in each other, rest all can follow. Kids can surely keep their parents together in a house, but will they ever be able to call it a home if their issues are unresolved?
“You wouldn’t believe it, but some of those trees are thirty, forty years old. Imagine what they would’ve been like had they been allowed to grow. But, no, this is how they will remain…”
Wiring saplings to grow into miniature trees in the shape we want? Bonsai they say, very expensive if done right. It sounds very similar to kids being molded into young adults in a way that would appeal to the parents. Although there is beauty in the Bonsai to some extent, there is no such admirable quality in a person who has been brought up that way, tight and within restraints. Growth is natural, whether it be physical, or mental/psychological/emotional in the case of humans, hindrance only causes unnatural blips, which by the way, will be permanent.
Then, there it was – suddenly, unexpectedly, magically – on the screen. A little blip – determined and regular. A tiny heartbeat, its minuscule thudding amplified by the machine. The first sign that within her, there was now another life, in sync with her own, and yet, separate and distinct.
Oh, I remember that day when we first realized we were expecting, I was down with fever and had to check before taking any medication (absolutely unlike I imagined breaking the news to him) and then when we heard that little thud, thud, thud echo in the ultrasound room. Overjoyed, we exited a happy couple. And I remember that day too when I delivered, part sedated, part exhausted, part inquisitive, but full attentive, when I heard her cries. The only thing I regret is not able to see her father’s face when he first saw her, held her and cuddled her, though I see them daily having a blast. She laughing, and he, content. Offsprings are the blessings of nature to us, having lost our first very early in the journey, I know what joys a little human can bring in the saddest and the quietest of homes.
“The plot in advertising is not what one is, but what one wants to be. Aspiration, aunty, aspiration. That is the key to selling things.”
When was the last time you did something you love? When was the last time you did something for yourself? When was the last time you did not worry about what others would think? And, when was the last time you forgot your age and lived as you like to? There is a difference in being what you are, and what you want to be. And when these two coincide, only then can you be satisfied and aspire.
And yet the Bangalore of the past persists, sometimes with the confidence of a venerated old-timer, sometimes barely clinging on.
When my father had first got a mobile phone home, in the early 2000s, I remember him sitting on the bed, proudly displaying the gadget in all its glory. The smile and the happiness of owning such a thing were beyond words. It was kept and used safely, for years. Today, when I see him using his smartphone ruthlessly, changing it every year or so, I am reminded of that day, when he brought home the family mobile.


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