Wednesday, 21 February 2018

Cheaters by Novoneel Chakraborty: a review

I'll begin with quoting Novoneel Chakraborty from Marry me, stranger, “Cheating is not an action like kissing someone or sleeping with someone. Cheating is when you feel the pressure of being faithful to someone because of someone else. When you suddenly realize, there's an option. That realization is cheating!”

Chakraborty's 11th book had to be special. This book is something the author wanted to write for a very long time and is surely an example of writing for the world what the author wants and not what the world wants to read. Cheaters: Nine stories that explore the other side of love. We all love mushy lovey dovey romances and we all hate admitting to cheating. This book, after multiple romantic thrillers and a majorly love story series (the Forever Series) brings forth the author's choices as a writer and is surely much needed.

According to the back cover: Nine stories. Nine ways it can all go wrong. None people all their experiments. Cheaters, Novoneel Chakraborty's first collection of short stories, examines the theme of adultery today when the definition and dynamic of a romantic relationship are undergoing unprecedented changes. These nine short stories are experimental and complex, much like modern day relationships.

Period. “Experimental and complex, much like modern day relationships!” That's what I am gonna write now. Because, there's nothing more apt than this line. I'll start with admiring the cover. Till date, I could proudly say that the first cover of How About A Sin Tonight was the best of his covers. This cover, beats that. Done in red and black (the colors of love and cheating?) and that godforsaken dagger tugs at your heart at the very moment and you feel like getting the book. And then you have expectations.

These nine stories mentioned in the book are very unlike what everyone has read of Chakraborty. He has been known for writing characters that are universal. Everyone could relate to it. But in this book, each story has a different character and only the people of the backdrop the book is settled in would relate to the characters. It's not for the mass (or is it?) This is a serious and a subtle book, my dear readers. Trust me when I say that.

The Tickets are Done: The first story revolves around a young married woman and her blast from the past. Since this is a first story you get a feel of the usual Novoneel while reading this and then you reach the end of the story and you're jolted out of the blue with an expression: ‘ohkaay! What exactly was that?’ and this expression is for the good. The way real and surreal has been handled is commendable. God! Why can't I write more about this story? You'll have to read this and know the answer.

The vacation: By now, you've gotten used to a pattern the author follows throughout the book. Of seven parts of every story. The auspicious 7! This story is about Radhika Bose, a perfect housewife, a perfect mother and her life altering secret vacation with her internet lover. It's forbidden. Trust me. To even admit to the fact that something like this actually happens in real life. But it does. Trust me! I personally loved the sketch of the whole story and how the forbidden is also written to make it appealing.

Tomorrow is cloudy: The third story. Main characters being N and R. And people are sure to imagine who the N and R are. I imagined too. Just being honest! This story would be one of my close to the heart stories. This story delves deep into the What if’s of life. What if you meet your estranged lover after years at an airport? What if you find her pregnant? What if you want to talk but you don't want to be approached either. Oh, by the way, your spouse calls you RIGHT THEN!

Clicks: Eklavya (I know, the name brings in a lot of memories for every Chakraborty reader) is suffering from the monotony of life. He starts clicking his surroundings, a new found love. That's when he clicks his fiancée with someone. Can it not happen with you? Or me? What will we do if it does? The book asks that and much more. Answers too? Understanding the whole point of the story, I somehow felt still there was something that was missing. The end, could've been sharper?

The Whore and the Wife: This has to be one of the best stories of the book. A story of empowerment at its core, it traces one night of the life of a prostitute (whore! How I love the word) and her connection with the wife of her client for the night. The two women, without even knowing, alters each other's journey of a lifetime (and probably the man's too? *Wink*). It connects on a personal basis somewhere and the core of the story remains intact.

Weekends: Read this story. Please. The only story in the whole book that reeks of love making. Sex, I would rather say. And God, Novoneel aces the story. Regular readers might heave a sigh of relief. But then there is a twist in the tale. And you do a double take on the whole story of Devang and Kratika and I'm sure there will be a smirk on your face just the same as the author's when he wrote it. The story takes a social turn but with a point where it is so relatable.

The flight is on time: Siya Mishra and Ram Mishra. Siya writes an email to Ram after she's accused of her character. Somehow, in this pack of 8 strong stories, this falters a bit. But again, the email ends and the story doesn't. The twist in the tale brings you to think, again, what if? Only if it could've been more explosive. But then again, this happens. This story was needed to be told.

Children: My personal top favorite of the whole book. Shayan and Priyanjali. The way they connect with each other over the memories of their sons, now no more, in a Kolkata back drop somehow connected me too much to the story. One of the longest stories of the otherwise crisp and short book, this story has a much deeper connect than all the other stories the book has to offer. Agreeing with the author, it couldn't have been with any other background. They had to be Bengalis. Please, it's a request! This story has to be told to a much wider audience. In all forms possible. I cried and even smiled at the end of it.

On bed with strangers: The final story of the book is surely not for the mass. You would need to do a double or even a triple take on the story to know what exactly the story stands for. Having been an ardent reader of the author and having attended most of his sessions it was a bit predictable to me but to the people I know have read the book, this was the most unpredictable story.

Cheaters is a journey. And it all comes back to the quote I referred in the beginning of the review. It's all about the realization. This book breaks down the quote and represents it in a way where probably you would want to go back to one story at a time in various points of your life and experience them all new. I won't say it is one of Novoneel's best. No. It isn't. But what it stands for is something a novel would never have been able to represent. I would want to read more short stories from the writer, yes. This book is difficult to rate, also because each story has something different to say. I'll leave without a rating as this journey is something you should live and not rate. I've lived it. Would you?

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