Coverage of ‘The Fine Print and other Yarns’ by Press and Electronic Media:
Parisian adventures: Stories that skirt around the bothersome issues of crossing cultures: The Fine Print And Other Yarns; Dinesh Verma; New Delhi: UBS Publishers; Rs. 295.
“It’s between the two of us now, Paris”, said Balzac’s Rastignac as he set out to encounter the reality of Paris. And so did writers as varied as Baudelaire, Flaubert and Poe in the later part of the19th century and Sartre, Genet and Beckett in the mid-twentieth century. They all responded in their own fashion to the challenge of Paris. And thus was forged the image of Paris, the Aphrodite among cities, a hymn to beauty, sensuousness, art and intellect.
How would then an Indian Rastignac encounter Paris in the closing decades of the 20th century? This is a question any reader of this debut volume of short stories about Indians in Paris (the last two stories about Indians in their home ground being only an addendum) would want to ask. Do Buddha, Rahul, Krishnan, Sanjay, Alu, Chopra and Singh, lead characters in these stories, experience Paris in complex or subtle enough ways? Or do they merely skim the surface of Parisian life, noting and naming social and cultural landmarks of Paris for the benefit of their Indian brothers? The contents of the stories and the episodes narrated in them admittedly have a certain potential for exploring the human comedy of cultural encounters. But they are not played out in full despite the meandering quality of the narration. This is as much an outcome of not wanting to dig deeper as of working with a language of limited registers, the conversational being the one most in short supply.
Mundane: For the most part the stories are about money worries of Indians caught in the inevitable franc-rupee conversion and about their lack of comprehension of cultural nuances. The preface by Dinesh Verma invites attention to the former, foregrounding as it does the ubiquitous foreign exchange rules and their impact, oftentimes kill-joy, on foreign jaunts. So the stories follow the trajectory of Indian economy, pre and post-reform. Which is fine, but surely one cannot put too fine a point on these mundane, penny pinching concerns. Not that a certain comicality and humour does not attend these episodes issuing out of franc-rupee mismatch or the inability to read the ‘fine print’ of cultural subtext. In this sense the title story, “The Fine Print”, is the best and most readable story in the volume with a near-perfect dénouement. It is about Krishnan’s shocking discovery that at a birthday party dinner given by a friend at a restaurant, the French norm, as against the Indian, consists in ‘going Dutch’. So he has to fork out one hundred and twenty francs for the bland meal he has eaten. The realisation that the uniform dessert served at the end is billed to Catherine’s own account as per the instruction finely printed in the invite which he has missed comes as small comfort. The damage has already been done by then. “The Visitor” is another story which amuses with its long and leisurely delineation of the globe-trotting Dr. Chopra’s nightmarish two days in Paris from which he is effectively barred thanks to his ignorance of French. Written in English, this is an interesting and comical demonstration of English playing second fiddle to French. One may also see the former story as attempting to strip the veil of romance from Paris, an effect the opening story “Buddha the Impressionist” strives for on a slightly bigger scale. It shows how the arty Paris is a figment of a bookish Indian character’s (Buddha) imagination, and, is due for a tumble at first contact with a touristy and commercially high-end Paris. On the whole good recipes and ingredients here for yarns which will turn out finer if fine-tuned. And surely there was no need to affix notes to the stories to gloss Indian words.
HIMANSU MOHAPATRA[The writer is Professor of English, Utkal University, Bhubaneswar, Orissa.]
“The fine print and other yarns, a collection of nine stories of which seven are set in Paris of 1980s and 1990s and two in contemporary India, is like a kaleidoscope, each turn of which presents an eminently interesting and unforgettable character.”
“Short stories are best suited for the busy lives and hectic schedules of today’s reads, believes Dinesh Verma. As he says this, he puts forward his first collection of short stories, ‘The Fine Print and other Yarns,’ for fiction lovers. “One short story can be quickly finished even while travelling whereas a novel demands a dedicated long time period from the readers,” says Dinesh who started writing these stories during his two-year service tenure in Chennai in 2001. “Before I joined the services, reading books was my passion and writing was my dream. Later, the job consumed all my time and both reading and writing took a backseat. It was after I joined services in Chennai, leaving my family behind in Delhi, that I managed to finally begin y quest for writing, explains Dinesh.
His job has taken him around the world but French literature, music, architecture and lifestyle have left an everlasting impression on his mind and that justifies the fact that four out of nine stories from his book are based in Paris. “Though I spent three years in France, I feel there is still a lot left for me to explore. My stories basically revolve round the resilient Indians who always manage to survive even in the most adverse circumstances,” explains Dinesh, whose fifth story called ‘The Fine Print’ portrays the helplessness of an MBA aspirant, who is always counting the limited Euros left in his pocket and is compelled to turn down the temptations around him, in a foreign nation. “I remember feeling the same in the mid 80s when we were not allowed to take more than $500 abroad.”
Dinesh Verma has read enough books during his graduation while pursuing his masters in literature from Delhi University and the book that remains close to his heart is by a Dutch author Eduard Douws Dekker’s Max Havelaar, the story of a bureaucrat who fights the corrupt government system alone. The author was bureaucrat himself better known as Multatuli. “Once I read it, I started referring it to others as well. Apart from this book, I enjoy 19th century English literature and French writers,” reveals Dinesh. Though these books and writers have interested Dinesh but he claims his book to be inspired by his own inner voice.
“A collection of nine stories, which is a smorgasbord of unforgettable characters.”
“A collection of nine stories of which seven are set in Paris of 80s and 90s and two in contemporary India. It is like a kaleidoscope, each turn of which presents an eminently interesting and unforgettable character. The stories provide a keen insight into the mind of an average Indian abroad, his resilience and adaptability.”
“Verma is an Indian Revenue Service Officer and with this collection of nine stories, he gives himself a gift that many book-worms-turned-bureaucrats aspire for—the tag of an author. Seven of the nine stories are set in Paris of the 1980s and 1990s. The Paris stories are quintessential experiences of an average Indian abroad. The Paris stories are quintessential experiences of an average Indian abroad. The protagonists of these stories hail from different backgrounds—there is a doctor, a painter, a Dutch student and also an |Indian pursuing a B-School dream in the fashion capital of the world. The other two stories are set in contemporary India.”
“A taxman’s prolific pen: The Fine Print and other Yarns”
MR Dinesh Verma is an IRS officer of the 1980 batch. He is a Francophile having studied in Paris on two occasions. Dinesh is an alumni of the prestigious L’Institut international d’administration publique. He has also done an MBA from one of the famous ‘Grandes écoles’ the Ecole Nationale des Ponts et Chaussées.
Dinesh is a student of English Literature and this is his first oeuvre. He is also a taxman. The rare combination of all these qualities comes through in his book which is a collection of nine short stories or novellas Buddy the Impressionist, The Overcoat ,The visitor,
Another Visitor, The Fine Print, The Insomniac, Pieter Van der Polder, The Mobile Phone Dealer, Bawa and his white Fiat. The last two stories are set in contemporary India.
However, the setting of the first four stories is in Paris of the mid eighties when India was still an autarchy of sorts; when foreign exchange was scarce, when rich or poor, young or old, influential or otherwise, one was allowed to take out only 500$ against one’s passport.
The second set of three stories are also based in Paris of the mid nineties when thanks to the liberalization, the craze for everything foreign was no longer there. The stories obviously have autobiographical elements and are based on the lives and experiences of
Indian students trying to make ends meet with the meager scholarship and the meager foreign exchange.
We thus get the curious transformation of the generous and hospitable Amitabh in the true to life and hilarious story ‘The overcoat’. The detailed observation of the psyche of the students studying in Paris at that time is really remarkable. With his incisive observation of human nature, the characters portrayed by Shri Verma come alive. In ‘The Visitor’, the discomfiture of the peripatetic Dr Chopra in Paris is lifelike. One almost feels one’s heart beat faster as Dr Chopra tries to find his way around to his hotel .The moans and sighs filtering through the wall separating the adjacent rooms which make Alu insomniac are
hilarious and real. Many Indian students going abroad may still do not realize that one is supposed to pay one’s share even when one is invited at a birthday party. These and many more vignettes are brought out in masterly fashion by Dinesh through his wonderful story telling ability.
Similarly, any taxman will be able to easily relate to the dilemma faced by the protagonist of the story ‘The Mobile Phone Dealer’. With a racy narrative style and a subtle sense of humor, the book has that ‘unputdownable’ quality. So, go ahead and finish reading it. Besides, the book also contains interesting information which can be of use to all who want to go abroad for higher studies.
Dinesh Verma is currently occupying a senior post in the Central Board of Direct Taxes. One Dinesh Verma is currently occupying a senior post in the Central Board of Direct Taxes. One wishes that he writes a similar book of stories containing the goings on in the North Block. Plenty of material must have been available to him. We are eagerly waiting for his second book.”
Dinesh Verma’s journey as a writer has just begun and his first novel will be ready to hit the market soon. However, the decline in reading preferences among the present generation causes him anguish. He believes that the need of the hour is a web portal to encourage reading habits.”
Indiansinparis.com: Indians in Paris–Paris Guide for the Indians in Paris; September 2, 2011
“Dinesh Verma has written ‘The Fine Print and other Yarns’, his first published book—an interesting collection of short stories derived from various experiences of Indians’ stay in Paris and their view of the French culture. Here’s a tete-a-tete with Mr. Verma on his Paris experiences, his views of the French and his book ‘The Fine Print and other Yarns’.[http://www.Indiansinparis.com/blog/roots/506-dinesh-verma-indian-under-spotlight]
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Written content copyright (c) Dinesh Verma, 2017