Book Review: POISON IN THE TALE by Noel Keymer

Introduction

This is my review of Noel Keymer’s book ‘Poison in the Tale’.

This book is one of the first few books that I purchased when I moved to Pune. There was a book fair in our office, go figure! This one cost me a hundred bucks. I read the short stories and LOVED them. I asked my siblings to read the book as well. My younger sister had to referred a dictionary and had noted meaning of tough words using a pencil. Now that I look at those words, the meanings are so out of context. I wish I could share some of those pages. I will try, I promise. With that, let’s start with the review.

The enemy

The enemy is about ‘the enemy’, people across borders. At least that’s Subodh has learned.

Subodh’s family has been serving in the army for generations. He learns from the movies he watched, and the stories he heard that people across the border are enemies. Filled with patriotism, he also registers for army. Soon, we see him as a part of a battalion ready to attack a troop of enemies stuck near Cheetah Hills.

Salim, the leader of the enemy’s troop, is devastated yet determined to save his men, who are in dire need of food and medical assistance. Out of food and ammunition, he isn’t sure of his future, but hopeful nonetheless.

Subodh is captured and hsi leader and two other colleagues are killed. Subodh reconsiders his enemy – a guy much younger and frail looking, another man in flesh and blood, just like him. However, when he finds him sleeping, he grabs the opportunity and tries to shoot him. Tough luck, no ammunition.

Gradually they warm up to each other as Salim offers him his lighter and Subodh in return offers him a cigarette. Stuck in cold cave without food or water, they briefly talk about their families.

After a night of shelling, the morning comes and the two army men decide, wordlessly, to return to their camp. Just as they walk, there is another round of firing. Subodh asks Salim to duck, doing the same but the bullets find them both.

Pondering Over the Story

It is a story that will touch your heart. It made me and will let you reconsider your definitions, not just about enemy, but also about other things like happiness, and success. Everything is subjective and life is too short. Or, maybe that’s just me being too philosophical.

I apologize giving away the ending but the urge to bring Kya Dilli Kya Lahore was too strong. The story also reminded me of the movie. The movie had similar premise where two last men from each side spend a coupe of days together, firing at each other, abusing and yet reminiscing the pre-partition era with fond memories. Vijay Raz and Manu Rishi nail the nuances of troubled and confused soldiers. Although detailed and heartwarming, the end was also quite same. It makes me wonder, was this short story an inspiration?

Nonetheless, a very enjoyable and impactful short story.

Voice in the night

This story is about a retired captain Sharma, 80+ years of age who lives alone in a bungalow with his 17 year old German shepherd Sheroo. He hears voices – of his son, and daughter, and doctor. Everyone insists that he stays with someone, and not alone.But he continues to stay alone and continues to hear voices.Oh, the voices.This story is only 6 pages long but boy does it leave you dumbfounded. I read it last night, around midnight and couldn’t sleep. Because I needed more reasons to stay awake. Bravo, Shabs!

Tony & Tony

Tony, Robert, Ruby and Tony live together. Rovery and Ruby are having trouble in marriage. The Tony duo, therefore spend most of their time together. Tony (grandfather) and Tony (grandson) share a room, a bed, their feelings and their food.

Once, Tony and Tony are spending time together and Tony Sr. suffers a massive heart attack. We, as readers, are led to believe that little Tony will be left alone if Tony dies.

And, the tables turn in a predictable manner.

This story, though predictable hurts. And, it had one really impactful paragraph. And, true!

The Doll 

Ms Khmabata and her niece Naheed live together. Their maid Mary is the third member of the household. Ms Khambata is eightyfive, single and childless. She has left everything to her neice Naheed. Ms Khambata has survived two heart attacks and third one could be fatal. She needs to be calm but circumstances force her to be alarmed all the tkme. there is a wickedly suspicious and scary doll that appeared out of nowhere and every attempt to get rid of the doll turns futile. 

MKhambata cannot take all the excitement and succumb to the third cardiac arrest.  

In a not-so-unpredictable turn of events, we find the reason behind the black grinning doll and MKhambata’s death. 

A nice story. 

Stalker 

Mary lives in a girls hostel after her mother’s death. She gets call from alleged guardian angel, her stalker. He calls her, sends letters and weird things to her employers, and she has to leave her job, twice. She reports the matter to the police but nothing comes off it. 

Angered by the happenings she decides to take matters into her own hands and devises a long failproof plan. Does that work? Or is the stalker just her illusion? 

This is the longest story of the book and one that doesn’t conclude. 

Anna Droid 

This is a story where a robot is under trial, for being a part of extra marital affair with her owner Sunil Shah. After a nice and loud courtroom drama, Sunil Shah is evicted 

The story feelincomplete as there is no explanation of the reason of acquittal. the end reminds me of Chitti from Tamil movie Robot, where he feels anger despite being a robot. 

Eve 

Eve is a short yet consuming story of a man Nikhil who was once a playboy and is now happily married to Radha. Until he meets a girl Eve in the bus. 

It is a revenge story and the afterthoughts linger in your mind longer than you’d want. 

Happy birthday Sheena 

This is a story of a woman named Sheena. She realized early on, at a young age of 16, that the path for quick success and to climb the social ladder is to use her gender to her benefit.  

Carefully following a plan, she schematically reaches to the elitist group and gets engaged to Sunil Batra, one of the richest men of the country.  

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The story isn’t just about how she got where she did. She has recurring nightmares and she reads tons of books to learn to interpret dreams. Then, we witness one of such nightmares with her. It is terrifying, horrifying and doesn’t end well.  

I personally related to this story because of her dream. In my opinion, all of us, at least the people I have discussed it with, have had this dream where they are running from an unknown enemy and to an unknown place. I have heard that dream interpretations cannot be generalized and it varies from person to person. But one thing is sure, it must mean that I am scared of something. Oh, boy! I am scared of so many things. I don’t even have a rational reason of being afraid sometimes. Like this afternoon, my heart thumped fearing something bad is about to happen. Nothing did. After dealing with the bout of anxiety for hours, I attributed it to Sunday evening anxiety. Yes, this review is drafted on Sunday. 

The boy Who Hated Trains 

This is literally about s boy who hated trains as he had heard scary stories about trains. He hated people around him, and they hated him back. Then, he plans to run away. He spends time to learn the train timetable, and the routine when it slows down. He runs aways and then he himself becomes part of a scary story, a story that nobody would hear about. 

I don’t like such stories, even though it is great storytelling. 

The Triangle 

The triangle rests on three points about a story that one travelling salesman shares with the other. Although written nicely, it didn’t surprise me much, the way short stories do. 

The Ride 

This is the scariest story of a hitchhiker. The driver is a psycho who loves to talk and hitchhiker is a woman who refuses to utter s wkngle word throughout the journey. I cannot reveal any more details for fear of spoiling it for all. But this tale surely had a poison in the tail. 

The Challenge 

The challenge is a story of Ashwin, an army man who is trained in diffusing bombs in the toughest of circumstances. He diffuses several bombs and soon promoted to the head of bomb squad. And, then he retires. But his longterm enemy bomber X had not left him alone. 

This is one hell of a short story that shocked me. 

This story also reminded me of one Urdu short story I had read. It was on similar lines. Sometimes the attack is done when you let the guards down. 

Pussycat 

This is a story about Sheila and her boyfriend Hari aka Harry. Although an adult now, he is still juvenile and derives pleasure from most silly things like gatecrashing, spreading false rumours of bombs, going partying… Sheila loves him but he refused to be serious in life. Left with no choice, she leaves him. 

A year later, Harry has learned the lesson and works as a Emcee. That’s when their paths cross, for the last time. 

This story is an adult version of Sher Aaya. 

Child’s Play 

This story is about Salma, a 11-year-old girl who likes to play by the sea. Once, she meets a small, dark, thin boy about her age. For fun, she starts to tell his fortune. Little did she know that everything she is saying would eventually become true. 

Saving the best for the last… This was the story that reminded me of the book and forced me to read it again, apart from the obvious reason of getting more content for my blog. 

Parting Thoughts

Well, look at that. This review has crossed 1700 words. If I were to write a story instead of a review, I would have had a short story myself.

I love reading short stories and I love travelling down the memory lanes. This book gave me the opportunity to do both.

As the title rightly suggests, this book constists of fourteen short stories with quite shocking twists in the tales. I like the word play. The title is ‘Poison in the Tale’, a slight change in the popular metaphor ‘Poison in the Tail’. The metaphor is true for some of the stories as it gets deadly towards the end. Some of these stories certainly left me gasping.

Have you read the book? What are your thoughts? Let’s discuss.

Shabana Mukhtar

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