A TO Z STORIES OF LIFE AND DEATH by D.Biswas (A Smashwords e-book, 2011)

There can be freedom in constraint and our short life span is the biggest constraint of all.

Embracing these restrictions, can be liberating but is undeniably challenging. It means accepting endings rather than fighting against them.

Writing is, like all forms of creative expression, a discipline. Imagination and inspiration are useful too but these aren’t much good without application.

A quote, generally ascribed to William Faulkner, makes the case for less sexy prerequisites like dedication and perspiration: “I write when I’m inspired, and I see to it that I’m inspired ar 9 o’clock every morning”.

Organization and a well-defined framework is invaluable for writers and is also good for readers.

Several movies by Peter Greenaway use the alphabet as a structural device and Walter Abish’s  experimental debut novel Alphabetical Africa was even more rigorous with the first chapter containing only words starting with the letter ‘a’ and the next 25 chapters introducing words starting with each letter in turn before doing the same thing in reverse for the remaining 26 chapters.

Damyanti Biswas’s book is practically disencumbered by comparison. The only rule she is bound by is that each of each 26 short chapters must begin with a different letter of the alphabet, taking us from A for Aquarium to Z for Zone.

The collection of micro-fiction is drawn from her own blog and was in response to challenge posed by Arlee Bird to write 26 posts on 26 days of April with a day of rest allowed only Sundays.

Damyanti describes herself as someone who “lives more in the head than the world” but these stories are far from being disengaged from the real world. They tell of people torn by indecision or intent on some desperate course of action, of abusers and victims ….and of fish!  In P for Perilous, a character seems to speak for her:  “The stories I have told you, they’re quirky no doubt but they’re real, somehow”.

In book form you can set aside a few minutes to sample these “bite-sized stories” one at a time or binge on them all at once. To savour their flavour best, I’d recommend the former .

My favourite opening line is  “Raju woke up each morning to the sight of his mother’s rear end” in O for Okay and the story I liked the most is I Have A Secret , the story of a 50-year-old woman isolated by unexpressed homosexual inclinations who painfully reflects “I know now why no man’s body could ever satisfy me. Not even my husband who gave me three children”.

Whatever the subject matter, the compassionate voice of the writer draws you into these worlds and, like all the best short stories, what she leaves out is as important as what is included.

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