Chasing Nirvana is an anthology of 52 short stories, more in the line of flash fiction, written by Rafaa Dalvi which promises to be a heady mix of action, emotion, chicanery, betrayal, and vengeance, often without even a veneer of remorse!
A famous quote by Machiavelli in the Epigraph prepares the reader for what is to follow. The very first story shares the title with the book, where the protagonist seals a Faustian bargain with Satan to gain a short span of adulation, glory and power, and this sets the tone of the anthology.
The leitmotif running through these stories is death – murder, suicide, or some such unnatural circumstance. Every story has a quirk – a smidgen of evil, a hint of wickedness – that blends seamlessly with the larger scheme of things, be it a mental health condition (as in Zodiac), Mumbai’s swish night life (The Other Woman) or its dark mafia underbelly (Five Stars). This trace of devilry and vice acts as a delectable seasoning, making the offering spicier and more flavourful. Alongside, Dalvi revels in catching his readers off-guard by popping some very sinister twists and shocks right at the end, which leave them both shaken and stirred (The Silent Ambulance, Lying on the Couch, You’ve Got Mail, Hook Line and Sinker, Naina, The Muse, and Eyes Wide Open, to name a few).
There are a few which are extremely short in length (The Escapist, Noise, The Visit and The Seed) but make for an enthralling read. The Eighth Sin has a slightly different tenor. Here, Hate is personified and it’s shown to take pride in the havoc it wreaks. It reads more like a social commentary and boasts of a grand, theatrical feel!
However, it’s not all about death and mortal bankruptcy. There are stories that talk of heart-warming adolescent friendship (On the Verge) and fragile, unrequited love (Reunion). Here Dalvi treats us to some tender emotional moments of pining, loving and losing. These poignant numbers help leaven the recurrent eerie feel that courses through the book.
Dalvi has an impeccable vocabulary – the language is often terse, but loaded. He is crisp and flawless in his narration. His stories have this very contemporary, urban feel and settings. He mentions things like malls, cruises, professionals with laptops, Starbucks, Bayroute, Hard Rock Café, Kalki Koechlin, and immediately strikes a chord with his target readers.
Rafaa Dalvi is a master in the art of characterisation. He delves deep into the human psyche and explores its nuances. His protagonists are all real, relatable men and women who flaunt dominant shades of grey. They are silly, unreasonable, irrational at times; they have their vices (oh yes, they do…don’t we all?!); they enjoy the carnal pleasures of life, and are acutely aware of their flaws. And yet, they are completely unapologetic and unabashed about their imperfections which makes them even more credible and endearing to the reader. Dalvi is equally bold and uninhibited in his choice of subjects – dark romance, substance abuse, dubious ethics et al – and he pulls them off with his signature elan, candour and devil-may-care attitude.
Belying popular expectations, Chasing Nirvana will not really induce a trance or Zen mode in the reader but will jolt him into doing a reality check, and set him off on an experiential journey through its treasure trove of gripping, riveting tales!
P.S. Adult supervision is recommended in case of young readers.
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