Tall Man Small Shadow – my thoughts

tall man

(click on the image above to reach the Goodreads page)

Author – Vipin Behari Goyal

Blurb – “It is my debut English novel based on existentialism. Salil loves a shadow which transforms into many characters to reveal the secrets of life. Aalya, his neighbor, is doing research in English literature. Her guide Seema is a childless lesbian. Paul, husband of Seema, is a drama director. I am the protagonist, who coins philosophies for day to day events and my wife Sulekha is the second protagonist who makes coincidences happen with her artful manipulations. Read on to learn what happens when….”

My thoughts:

This book was sent to me by the author with a request to share my honest thoughts on it without any obligation. (Sorry Mr Vipin for the delay).

All events, however far apart they may occur, are part of a coincidence that would happen someday. Anyone, howsoever big a schemer or manipulator he or she is, is not greater than a supreme power who is the biggest manipulator in the name of coincidence” ~ Anupam

“Yes,” Sulekha murmured slowly, “everything is a coincidence”.

When the author contacted me for a review, I was intrigued by the name & the cover of the book. Tall Man Small Shadow- now that is, for me, quite an interesting name for a book. The cover of the book was the next thing that caught my attention. It carried the picture of a tall man with the small shadow of a woman. Curiosity to find out more about it lighted up in me. However, before saying ‘Yes’, I went ahead to check what the book is all about. And I found that the book is based on existentialism, which I did not have any idea about. Looking for its meaning in the web, I found this –

n. A philosophy that emphasizes the uniqueness and isolation of the individual experience in a hostile or indifferent universe, regards human existence as unexplainable, and stresses freedom of choice and responsibility for the consequences of one’s acts.

Even after reading this definition I did not get a clear picture on what it meant and so decided to read the book to understand it better.

The book is written in a simple, flowy language in the form of 47 short chapters (152 pages) told mainly by Anupam and which revolved around the lives of him, his wife Sulekha, his daughter Aalya, Salil, Seema and Paul. Though the plot was not a tangled one, the story was not that straightforward too. It had hints of philosophy of life every now and then, especially in the ways Anupam looked at life around him. His views on mundane things carried me off to some unknown destination and made me think in a never before kind of way. However, my teeny-weeny concern here is about the connection of these viewpoints with the plot. I don’t know, I might have missed a point!

Now, most of the story has been narrated by Anupam through his perspective. I do not want to include any spoiler here but would definitely like to share that Chapter No. 46 narrated by his wife Sulekha (the only chapter where she is given a voice in the entire book) turns the entire story upside down. The reader will be shocked, surprised and amused too.

Apart from the few grammatical errors or changing of the first person every now and then and hence at times, confusing me about who was making the point, the one part of the story which the author could have done without was the one-night stand of Salil with his ex girlfriend Nasreen (after her marriage) because she wanted a ‘son’. I see no connection of this incident with the entire chain of events in the story.

This book tells a simple story on the outlook but has the capacity to make the reader stop and think about some finer aspects of life and thus making it thought provoking too. At no point of time the book gets boring or preachy….it simply makes you think. I would safely conclude, therefore, that it is definitely worth a read.

Snippets from the book that I liked & those that made me stop & think –

  • “He who loves, cares. He cares about you more than he cares about himself. What you like and what you dislike. What please or displease you. If you feel sick, he takes better care than a professional. A professional care is mechanical. The care of your loved ones has a healing effect on your ailment, and also strengthens your emotional and spiritual bonding.” ~ Anupam
  • “A shadow has no colour of its own. It has many shades of gray to black, depending upon the intensity of light. It moves with the object and also with the movement of the source of light. A reflection and silhouette are different from a shadow since they do not have any existence. The shadow is positive; it’s not the absence of something. It’s an effect of the cause; it’s not part of the object” ~ Salil
  • “Not really, the opposite of good is not necessarily bad” ~ Anupam
  • “It is good to pray even if you do not believe in God” ~ Anupam
  • “All good stories lead to a resolution of escalated tension. How can there be a story unless something goes wrong?’ ~ Aalya
  • “When two strangers from different backgrounds & upbringings decide to spend their life together, how can they live happily together unless they are ready to make compromises? So life is nothing but a series of adjustments. If you love, all sacrifices are valuable” ~ Aalya
  • “he liked this old man. He always addresses him by his first name, and treats him as an equal. Most of the elderly consider old age to be a privilege. They expect respect just because they are elderly” ~ Salil
  • “The biggest enemy of fun is guilt. Anything done against conscience accumulates guilt, and soon you start living a religious life void of fun. Religion is not only opium for poor people but also for the rich, who can suppress their guilt and conscience with it” ~ Salil
  • “Whenever there was conflict in the value system of an individual & society, the winner is society. You may revolt and go your own way, but society will chase you until one day you will regret having chosen your own path. By then it will be too late and your generations will suffer. If you want to revolt, reach the highest level in any field – politics, literature, money-making – and then society will accept you, whatever you may do. You may even be quoted as an example” ~ Salil
  • “Traditions are time-tested and youth of every generation raised questions before adopting them. I have inherited only those traditions which survived because of their positive strength. The collective wisdom of our ancestors is a gift we can’t discard” ~ Anupam
  • “How strange this whole process is. The initiation of life by zygote is very mysterious and close to making one believe in God” ~ Aalya

I thank Mr Vipin Behari Goyal for sending me a copy of the book & for the great experience. I wish him success with his work – this book and the many more that will come in future!!

[This review has been submitted as a part of my Indian Quills Challenge 2013 (read about the challenge here)]

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