Title- The Other Side... Dare to Visit Alone?
Authors- Faraaz Kazi, Vivek Banerjee
Publishers- Mahaveer Publishers
Genre- Fiction/ Horror
Price- Rs 150/-
Ok, what I have in my hands right now is an author-signed copy of "The Other Side" all thanks to The Readers' Cosmos's Book Review Program and Nimi Vashi.
Let's talk about the cover first- We have a graveyard, silhouttes walking, hand rising from the graves, a haunted mansion in the background in a full moon night, bats flying, and two eyes lurking in the corner, looking to pounce on you and tear you apart... ok you get my point. The Hindu review reads (on the cover itself)- "Engrossing in ways more than one, it surprises, it shocks, it holds you in vice-like grip!" Well, the "in ways more than one" part might be because it is not one story but a collection of short stories- 13 (Ooo... the cursed number) short stories of pure evil to be specific.
The author Faraaz Kazi is recipient of the YCOF National Excellence Award and the winner of the National Debut Youth Fiction Award 2013. He owns his own academy and is a fellow member of the the 'Film Writers Association of India'. The other guy- Vivek Banerjee is a pediatrician by profession and has written stuff for Westland's Chicken Soup for Indian Doctor's Soul and other well-known publishers.
The book begins with a prelude with the authors sharing horror stories in a horror movie like set-up and we just know that something ominous is in the offing. Soon the idea snowballs and they decide to write a book together and that's how we have the book in our hands. The thing with reviewing a short stories' book is that you cannot judge the book as a whole. Every story is a living, breathing tale here and should be used for haunting the nights, one story at a time. Anyway, horror thrives on the element of tension. Just like surprise is the tool of thrillers, tensed heavy air with the characters seemingly walking into a trap is the typical horror fiction structure. Very few are the gifted ones who can write short stories on horror without rushing the plot and doing the plot justice by the patient build-up to the eventual unleashing of the demon, ghost or whatever. Also, since we have only a few stereotypes of ghosts in our mind, the author runs the risk of overusing the cliches like backward-feet, white floating figures, blood-dripping, eyes rolling back in the skull etc., I think with the limited tools, the authors have done justice to the stories and kudos to them for that.
As someone who's not spooked easily, I deliberately chose to read these stories at midnight hours just so that I could get into the mood and yes, the mood was created and how! I'd be lying if I say I didn't wonder if someone was hiding under my bed before sleeping after reading the book.
Coming to individual stories, some of the stories have been written exquisitely with the execution of a professional where the author grips you and you cannot but turn the pages to find out more. But a few of them, in my view, fall in the trap of too much detailing. The thing with ghosts is that we are scared of them because we know nothing about them, if they were to live next door, we'd actually kind of grow friendly to them. That happens only once or twice, but in the rest of the stories, the narrative is spot on!
Talking about the language, I think it's a bit difficult to judge Indian writers on the basis of language because most of them are trying to make their books more appealing to the masses and sometimes that happens at the cost of the language. I could have done with some grotesque detalings but then I think about the teenage girls reading the novel and then finding themselves unable to sleep the whole night so, maybe it's for them that the authors have gone a bit easy. I'd like to mention here that there is no such thing as an awful horror story. If told in the right mood, even the story of the rabbit and the tortoise can spook you out; and I think Faraaz and Vivek have the tools.
Another art that seems to be of particular importance for short stories in general and horror ones in particular is the art of landing a perfect climax. Anton Chekhov's short stories used to end abruptly sometimes making you want to go up to the author and demand explanations, sometimes feeling a bit cheated but the purpose of the story ie to make you restless and worried about the characters was served. Of course, Chekhov is Chekhov and Faraaz and Vivek are no where close but in terms of the art of ending the story with a bang, these guys nail it almost everytime. The 'almost' is because of the occasional lingering when the plot has already ended but then that's just my view.
"Short stories" is a genre close to my heart because of my early tryst with Chekhov, Ruskin Bond and also every Indian kid's favourite- Malgudi days by R K Narayan which is why maybe I had high expectations from this book. It does live up to them for a certain extent. I'm looking forward to a sequel where the "The Other Side" gets spookier and the ghosts get deadlier. I'd not mind if the stories were longer. We actually need the authors to take the ghosts more seriously, crank it up a notch, you know!
The book needs to be appreciated for the sheer novelty of the ideas though. In a market ridden with thrillers and love-stories, this genre comes as a fresh change. It's about time the Indian reader grew up and woke up to newer themes and genres. It's very reasonably priced and the book will place the authors in a slot where the audience would expect them to experiment and innovate more. I hope they continue the good work.
I'd rate it 3 out of 5 stars!