A short story of mine is now on Litbreak Magazine: Time and Opportunity.
Here’s an excerpt:
No, yesterday’s snot-nosed kid is not going to steal from me and get away with it. After I gave him a job when none of the others wanted him with his bloodshot eyes and dirty clothes. “Satish”, I said, “Here are some decent clothes for when you’re serving my customers and washing their plates.” I also give him two meals and a hundred rupees daily for doing just that. Who would be so generous to a Chamar boy with leathery skin, like he was born in one of the hell-like tanneries where his ancestors worked?
Set in present-day Mumbai, India, this is the story of how a street vendor, Nawaz Bhai, finds out that one of his employees is stealing from him.
Partly, the story is about India’s social class and caste hierarchies that exist at every level of society. And, partly, the story is about how our sense of what constitutes right or wrong is rarely based on absolute values — rather it depends on the sum total of our particular circumstances and experiences.
I had an interesting set of questions from my beta reader before I started submitting the story to magazines. I’m sharing these mainly to show how important beta readers can be to the writing process. Through the process of responding to her, I was able to improve the story further as well.
The protagonist, Nawaz Bhai, is a Hyderabadi Muslim. Why is he cooking and selling vegetarian South Indian street food?
Hyderabad is a multi-cultural city and Muslims are the largest religious minority group. They’ve adopted a lot of the local foods and customs, as one might expect. My protagonist, though he’s from there, has spent some forty-odd years in an even more multi-cultural city, Mumbai. So, I wanted to show how he had assimilated into his adopted city through his livelihood, his Hindu friends like Jairam (another vendor), and so on.
Yet, despite the above, he has bigotry towards a lower-class person like Satish. Class prejudices, often, go deeper and in more insidious ways, across all levels of Indian society than caste and religion. With the latter, the discrimination tends to be more obvious and in greater evidence. With the former, many people will refuse to even acknowledge to their own consciences.
Why did you choose to tell the story from Nawaz Bhai’s point of view and in first-person voice? Always tricky. Why not one of the younger boys? Or even a neutral narrator?
Point of view and voice are definitely tricky decisions when telling a story.
I made the voice decision first — choosing first-person rather than second or third person because, mainly, I wanted the reader to get very close to the protagonist’s state of mind with all its biases, weaknesses, and rationale. This story is very much about how Nawaz Bhai views and reacts to the circumstances that are unfolding. So, I also wanted that sense of immediacy: “as-it-happens”.
Narrative point of view became necessarily Nawaz Bhai’s because of the above choice.
The ending is rather open-ended and, possibly, even a bit abrupt. Why did you choose that?
For me, with a short story, there is, typically, one key question to be answered. A novel or longer-form fiction may and, often, will try to answer many questions. So, here, the main question is: “How will Nawaz Bhai deal with the truth of who is stealing from him?” All I wanted to show was his reaction. What happens next is entirely upto the reader’s own imagination. I am not a fan of endings where all the loose threads are tied up nicely so that the reader is left with nothing to ponder on. Life itself isn’t like that.