Writing on castaways needs muscle.
Writer Palash Krishna Mehrotra walks down the dark alley of India urban underbelly in his new novel – “Eunuch Park: 15 Stories of Love and Destruction” - published by Penguin Books India in June.
He writes about prostitutes, cross-dressers, murderers, drug addicts, students and stalkers portraying their perversions and vulnerabilities with equal insight - all characters in the shadows- on the fringe of life – at the slums, the call centres, college hostel and rented rooms.
When the protagonist of the short story, “Dancing With Men” goes out one night to dance in night spot with male friends – after a drink in his favourite pub- he meets people who inhabit the middle earth - somewhere just at the surface of respectability.
A sailor and his girlfriend narrates how they met . Sailor says, “This time, when I got off the ship, I just had one thing on my mind -marriage. Sailor girl says in a nasal voice, “Even I was desperate to get married.” Sailor boy says, “Thank god, I met a girl... I was so desperate to get married that I would have a married a goat.”
“Same here”, says the girl. The stories are stark- like pages out of reality.
Mehrotra, who taught creative writing in Doon School in Derha Dun in Uttarakhand before moving over to Delhi to pursue his writing career, says he had to work on his language. “The everyday feel to the language was conscious and I had to labour to get it right. The story, “Dancing With Men took me a long time to write and required several drafts,” Mehrotra says.
Eunuch Park- the story after which the book is named has an element of horror in it. Two young couples – Anmol and Roshni are looking for a place to make love. No place offers them the privacy that they need.
He takes her to the Eunuch Park – a shady park in the city for a few hours of intimacy. The eunuchs who control the park charge money from them - perhaps a bit too much. An exasperated Anmol takes her to his hostel room- where they are found out by the dean and the hostel warden.
Anmol bundles Roshni in a quilt and stows under the bed – but the men on finding her morph into eunuchs and threaten her with a knife.
“I weave facts into fiction. The people are those that I meet – but I sometimes imagine their plight,” explains Mehrotra, who has studied in Delhi and in Balliol College in Oxford.
Other stories in the collection in the collection are equally gut-wrenching. Mehrotra is working on a non-fiction narrative about the urban youth in contemporary India- “The Butterfly Generation”.