Ladders Against The Sky Hardcover – 2017
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Ladders Against The Sky is a book of short stories written by Murli Melwani.The short stories in this collection have a panoramic sweep. The stories set in India talk about the contradictions and ironies of life in this vast country. Those set overseas deal with adjustment and loosening cultural ties. Together they project engaging perspectives
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Murli Melwani’s anthology should actually have been “….against many skies” for the stories crisscross India and her myriad cultures, seeking out unusual and universal human traits. From the Himalayan passes to the sylvan Northeast of India, through the Heartlands and beyond, his narrative focus shifts gaze frequently to a unique Indian community:
One that hasn’t a single inch of Indian soil to call its own and is sprinkled not only across the country but also across the globe, perhaps the standard bearer of soft diplomacy.
As Partition Refugees, the Sindhi Hindus moved heaven and earth to make good again; sheer hard work following ancestral trading trails far beyond those travelled by hoary ancestors, they retain that unique Sindhiyat, drawn from their native soil around the River Indus, the homeland of the oldest yet known civilization of Mohenjodaro and Harappa!
As Murli’s stories reel out, typical Sindhi traits enriched by diverse sources, melding Hindu, Sufi and Sikh, surface; an age old capacity to merge into every host community they operate in, leveraging power with money without getting drawn into political sides. Today Sindhiyat stands threatened by the absence of land or language roots, the desperation of elders to hold on and Gen X to meet the world. Will it enrich or impoverish, remains to be seen.
More than one story focuses on the catastrophe of marriage with non-Sindhis. As a reader, one is forced to focus on our capacity to draw lines of differences instead of erasing and accommodating. It would appear, for instance in “Water on a Hot Plate” that perhaps the older generation was more tolerant than the present. Perhaps that dates back to the era when men spend all their adult lives trading in foreign lands, with infrequent visits home. So second families were inevitable and closed an eye to; today’s brides accompany their men to Chile, Argentina, Alaska, even Moscow …. Tougher on the guys. But there remains a poignancy in such encounters; in “Writing a Fairy Tale”, “The Mexican Girlfriend” and “A Bar Girl”, each with contrasting ends that depict the humans behind the business brains.
There are the gems that bring a smile to the face, from the irreverent “Waiting for Leander Paes, Sania Mirza or Somdev Varman” to “Sunday with Mary” which is middleclass life so typical, yet so atypical when someone makes a special effort. Inevitably, there are commonalities not only amongst Indians but also in all human races – deference to Religion, resistance to asking questions and the dedication to be being the Head of the Chicken rather than the Tail of the Ox….
Young people are the driving force of every culture, whether it’s business, mingling or drawing lines of separation. Even little ones take a bow in this delightful anthology, each mired in their space, time and circumstances that modern sociological developments thrust on young generations. It is for the older generations to view their shenanigans with a smile of hope, encouragement and maturity, rather than meddling to precipitate disaster and tribulation.
Let me confess. As a post Partition Sindhi, these stories evoked so much delightful nostalgia for a long gone past, those memories of eavesdropping on conversations of homecoming uncles and cousins, accidental overheard chatter, tales of wheeling dealing, adjusting to every different environment, the second families abroad, the celebrations, the songs, looking, listening, absorbing, until one day one realized…. Well so this is what being Sindhi is all about! No one teaches culture; it is absorbed, from every day and unusual happenings.
For the general readers too, numerous emotional highlights of global inter relations and those within India itself have been painstakingly recreated by the author’s impeccable story telling that refashions the varying environments of each of his stories in the most elegant of simple readable prose, evoking smiles, tears, sniffles and generous laughter from the reader.
In an Indian short story scene awash with female writers and aspirations, Murli Melwani brings a refreshingly male perspective to focus on what is happening all around us, at home in India and in numerous Sindhi outposts across the globe. His style is easy, often quite tongue-in-the-cheek over inherited quirks; the aim is to highlight a slowly fading culture that needs active purposeful nurture.
So much is encapsulated in a short story: unfolding events recounted painstakingly by the writer, the detailing dipped in his views of what is happening and his remarkable observation probing for the causative background, perhaps a harking back and wondering whether the same will play out again.
So many do play out over and over again in different parts of the country and different communities: from human nature’s determination to create differences instead of erasing them, to apportioning all blame for misfortune to a Mother Goddess while using her daughters in every abusive way possible, from the hunt for vengeance perhaps balanced by a woman’s search for a little space specially for each other in the midst of a kill-joy life.