No Presents Please by Jayant Kaikini
Mumbai is the central, beloved character of Jayant Kaikini’s story collection, yet plenty of space remains to fall in love with the protagonists of each story. In No Presents Please, the stories are drawn from Kaikini’s vast oeuvre, spanning the early 1980s to the 2000s, and translated from the Kannada, consciously as a body of work, by Tejaswini Niranjana.
In the first story, ‘Interval’, we are dropped into a small vignette, as narrated by two characters who only acknowledge each other through the language of Bollywood flms. In wonderful shorthand, as in a script, we scroll through a series of encounters which set each character on a path that they assume is shared while each is actually caught entirely in their own narrative, the star of their own movie.
The ease with which Kaikini seems to pluck individuals out of the vast city of Mumbai and follow them along for a little while brings an intimacy to each and every story while retaining the sense of a city that seems to grow and grow.
I am still thinking of the three men in a taxi during a food, drawn together as strangers by small acts of kindness, and all distracted still by what they will need to return to in their individual lives after this moment out of time.
No Presents Please won the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, the frst book in translation to do so. It is a wonderful opportunity for English language readers to experience some of Kaikini’s beautiful writing for the frst time. I’m very glad I did.