Delhi working class comes alive in Mridula Koshy’s book (With Image)

May 21st, 2009 - 4:30 pm ICT by IANS  

Barack Obama New Delhi, May 21 (IANS) The best stories are those that are born of the lives of the working class people on the streets, says former professional trade union worker-turned short story writer Mridula Koshy.
The 40-year-old writer’s maiden anthology of short stories, “If It is Sweet”, was released in the capital Wednesday.

Published by one of the youngest publishing houses in the country, the Westland/Tranquebar Press, the book “travels through the streets of Delhi picking on odd lives and the disavowed dramas that play themselves out on the stretch of the crowded BRT and in the adjoining residential neighbourhoods like Defence Colony, M-Block Market (of Greater Kailash I), Chirag Delhi flyover and Humayun’s Tomb”, the writer says.

The prolific writer has been contributing short stories to Penguin Books-India anthologies, American and European publications like Wasafiri, Prairie Fire, The Dalhousie Review and Existere.

Koshy, who was born and raised in Delhi till the age of 15, migrated to the US in the 1980s. After graduating from Occidental College on the outskirts Los Angeles, where US President Barack Obama studied, Koshy became a full-time trade union activist and a community organiser, while holding several small-time jobs like waitress, backstage dresser and silver ware polisher. She returned to Delhi four years ago and took to full-time writing.

Her career as a trade union worker has a lot to with the stories - they are full of the sweat and grime of the city. The narration is punctuated with slogan-like graffiti, italicised excerpts and distortions of words to convey the regional identity of the characters.

“Somehow when I started writing about India, I felt I had to begin with Delhi. The issues that the city threw up were serious and complex. I worked in the US as a trade union organiser, talking to workers in the public sector units, healthcare and those in jobs that were not represented by other unions.

“It was largely because my mother worked as a nurse in the US for some time and I realised that the US was a very complicated society. It is divided along racial and class lines. The city of Los Angeles, where I lived, saw quite a bit of upheaval in the mid-eighties. I found some of it in Delhi,” Koshy told IANS.

She was thrown into a society of immigrants - simmering with complications and anxieties, the culture of welfare doles and freeloaders.

“I had to come up with an analysis to convince myself why I was a second class citizen in the US. I brought my intelligence to use in the working class society to understand the gender forces at play and the whole migrants’ issue.

“So, after college I joined this radical trade union Local 11 HERE, which came to my campus seeking volunteers. I was arrested for the first time while working for Local 11. Then I joined the United Farm Workers and finally the Service Employees’ International Union in Portland, where I worked for six years, organising workers as a pro,” she said.

Koshy’s stories are a reflection of the proletariat in her. “Today is the Day”, a cross between a novella and a short story divided into seven sub-heads, tells the tale of Suraj, a domestic help who is tired of working in a big household.

He resents the class-divide and the trappings of sophistication in his employer’s home which force him to hit back in a bizarre way.

“The Good Mother”, a tragic and rather gruesome take on single motherhood, is the story of a woman’s pilgrimage to immerse the ashes of her dead sons. She picks up a younger lover on the way from Rishikesh to Delhi and ends up tipping the brass urn containing the ashes of her sons out of the the window sill in a Defence Colony rent-in, which she shares with her foreign lover, instead of in the holy waters of the Ganga.

Koshy’s next project: a novel set in Kerala and the US.

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