Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Mice In Men by Anirban Bose

Mice in Men
Anirban Bose
2010, Harper Collins India
212 pages, short stories
Found: on sale at Crossword bookstore, Kolkata

This collection of short stories written by a medical doctor and university professor combines clear, precise wording with a knack for quirky storytelling. Each tale examines the life of an ordinary person, many of them in the field of medicine, who find themselves in an unusual position.

The stories are:

"The New Job"

After finding out that he needs surgery to correct his debilitating back pain, an old man takes a job as a driver for a wealthy businessman's family. To his dismay, he discovers that the husband is cheating on his wife everyday - and as the driver it is his responsibility to ferry him to the assignations. This leaves him in a moral quandary: he needs the money from this job, but after a long marriage, he feels morally repulsed by his employer's adultery.

"The Magic of Medicine"

A young Indian doctor administers to a severely ill patient, but is troubled by his status as an illegal immigrant from Bangladesh. 

"Mice in Men"

B. Lal Chowdhury is an efficient civil servant whose life is planned down to the millisecond. But when he rescues an injured mouse from his coworkers, his schedule needs to change - and he discovers that change is good. 


A dying man reflects on his actions when he was a new doctor, sent to practice in a remote village in Tamil Nadu. When the traditional power structure clashes with the upcoming communist organizations, he gets pulled into the middle of it to arbiter a disagreement: whether, from a medical standpoint, the local leader's daughter can marry an untouchable's son. 

"The Balloonwala" 

A young doctor finds himself without any patients in his new office in an expensive part of town. He idles away his time by watching an octogenarian who sells balloons every day outside of his window. He soon begins buying some balloons every day to give the man some money, and the old man reciprocates by getting him to write prescriptions for his and his wife's insulin and by proclaiming that this young doctor will soon find success. 

"The Temptation of Fate"

When he was a child, a fortuneteller had prophesied that Ashwini would do something great. But now he is working as a security guard in a housing complex, dating a woman who works as a maid there. When he gets the opportunity to deliver a message to one of the residents, a film director, it seems that his fortunes are looking up. But are they? 

"Stockholm Syndrome" 

A renowned psychologist is taken in for police interrogation regarding the disappearance of the husband of one of his patients. 

"The Right Way to Eat a Mango"

A businessman recently returned to Mumbai from England contemplates the terrible condition of Indian society from the inside of his air conditioned car. 

"The Faithfulness of Traits" 

A retired anesthesiologist is depressed, still not having recovered from his wife's death a decade earlier. Every day, he wishes to die - and just when he's planning to finally do it, a new maid comes that helps him look at life a little differently again. 

"The World's Greatest Oiban"

After receiving his 38th rejection letter, an aspiring novelist tries to explain to his son about how people saying that you're bad at something can make you feel bad, but it's actually your own opinion of yourself that's most important. 

The Power of the Everyday

Most of these stories are terribly poignant, with twists at the end that I did not see coming. There is not one unifying idea (or even set of ideas) that defines the collection as a whole, except for Bose's writing style and unique way of looking at the world.

One theme that appears in many of the stories is what a normal person - someone who has never really accomplished anything in particular, or even tried to do so - can accomplish when put in the right situation. How do people help others? How do they exploit others? How can they make the right choices? 

Many (but not all) of the protagonists are basically good people who want to help others. For example, the doctor in "Balloonwala" buys balloons out of the goodness of his heart - he doesn't really have enough money to spend on them everyday, but he decides to do it anyway. In return, the balloonwala himself comes to the doctor in the fancy office, where under other circumstances he probably would not have gone. 

Because of the importance of the twist endings of each of these stories, I won't say any more. Pick up this charming collection of stories for a quick but poignant read.

Mice in Men can be found on Amazon US, Amazon UK, Amazon IN, and flipkart

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