Silver Lining: short stories that make an engaging read

Silver Lining: A collection of short stories by Anu Shivaram, pp 110.

Published by V.Padmavathi, Teju Publications, Bangalore.

A Review By Neena Badhwar

The distance and miles that are traversed between a thought, an idea to the long hours when words metamorphose into a seeming plot, is perhaps a Covid success story in itself.

The initial seeming plot is the important juncture for any writer especially one who flings herself into this treacherous path with unknown cliffs and ravines. It must need conviction and courage to make a cover book.  

The final concluding verdict may be to carelessly pass one’s eye over the book and denounce it as a good, mediocre or worthy of a Booker Prize. But with Silver Lining, the more important question I would ask  – Is Silver Lining worth writing? Are the stories worth telling? Are these stories relevant to us? You and Me ? You will have to read the book to find out.

Silver Lining ultimately is an arrival. An arrival for Anu Shivaram, its writer. Not just for her but for all her characters, her readers, supporting family and friends.  At a time when all arrival halls of airports are closed and silent, Anu Shivaram takes us on a journey to places where the reader arrives each time and again. Her craft carries an uncanny insight. Perhaps developed through her own life experiences, perhaps imagined, but mostly their place of origin sounds familiar and home grown, relatable even if cliché at times.

It causes us to pause and look at ourselves through her pen, her words and her plot from a true place, questioning common prejudices, biases and preconceived views.

She writes with a maturity of a coloured participant on the white canvass of Australian suburbia. Standing apart sometimes and discovering herself again but always reinventing and unique. Her observations were perhaps derived from her interactions, travels and relationships here and across oceans, nostalgic memories of life back in India, being an ethnic working woman of colour in Australia, a mother, a home keeper and more. All of which has culminated in a bity book of twelve stories.

The stories deal with important issues cross cultural, inter-generational and more. Issues  faced by first generation children caught between two cultures, her own expectations and so on. Her stories explore situations where eastern cultural practices and customs develop in a western and current covid landscape. For instance, the story about a wedding during Covid, or a student’s need to pay Dakshina – debt to his teacher in ”˜The debt’.

Shivaram picks her characters around her. She elaborately works on them. You might recognise all of these characters immediately. As if you knew them from the time you were born. The story about a visit to India with her Aussie friends is an eye opener for many no doubt, we have also cringed like her character does when these friends test and teach her as to open her own mind to the preconceived notions that many of us develop after migrating to Australia about our own homeland.

The aboriginal partner her son brings home addresses our own biases and prejudices yet opening our minds to the similarities that one can find between two cultures ”“ Indian and Aboriginal.

Once again questioning one’s bias she delves into the story of Salma, a Pakistani lady, whom she befriends and becomes a lifelong friend, even as the two countries that they both belonged to are embroiled in the war at Balakot.

Shivaram dedicates her insights and arrival in the cover book to her parents stating ”˜They always found a silver lining in every dark cloud’.

The dark cloud here is not the dark cloud of holocaust or famine or depression that previous human generations have faced. Yet it is real to all of us as we of coloured descent settled into a white populous and attempted to negotiate our lives here making changes, possible at times but mostly awkward.  

Life can be difficult as one arrives in a different land. Perhaps many of us never arrive and have left a major part of ourselves behind in India. Anu Shivaram however seems to through this noble offering of a collection of short stories has made her peace.

She says, ”˜Silver Lining is a deeply satisfying read for people who believe the sun can still shine behind every dark cloud.’ I would say not only are her stories a good read, but a useful book to read for all new migrants who decide to make Australia their new home for they would have travelled her journey and arrived much before all of us still living here.  

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