Elegant and engaging
Tino de Sa's stories are elegant and engaging. With a subtle, teasing twist of the quirky and tangy. Like sangria – essentially fruity, but with a gentle twist, even punch – delicious enough to entice you to want more, but strong enough to give you a nice heady feeling when you are done.
These stories also draw from Tino's experience as an extremely successful field officer: as Additional Collector Bilaspur, Project Officer Burhanpur, Collector Chhindwara and later as one of the longest serving Chief Secretaries of Madhya Pradesh. They are stories that are redolent with the smell of mother earth, of the seasons, of the forests and of the environment at large. His descriptions of people, especially those who comprise the lowest social and economic strata are suffused with a deep sense of empathy and respect for their condition – very much in consonance with his reputation as a secular, and sincere civil servant.
Tino's descriptions of the terrain are evocative and reminiscent of the writings in the Imperial Gazetteers of yesteryear when the British officers spent long periods understanding and describing ecology of the areas they were posted in.
Sample this from 'In Another Country and Besides', a stirring story of mistaken identity and fatal error of judgement: "The owlet's chief nesting habitat was the jagged, shale ridges that veer down steeply to the Denwa river, and she was determined to prove it, for her own satisfaction as well as, as he often told me for the fame it would bring her, allowing her to make a career out of dearly loved hobby. From among the knot of hills that surround the Pachmarhi plateau, a long spur extends southwards from the Dhupgarh peak. Fed by Pachmarhi's copious rainfall, the waters that flow down its tangled eastern face keep Denwa in full stream while it lurches along sinuous crevasses at bottom of the gorge. These deceptively safe and precipitous slopes were Vanaja's hunting grounds for now."
The characters that he has etched are fulsome and their interactions are contemporary in their tone. These could well be the people you bumped into in your last time-sharing holiday – happy-go-lucky, easy to talk to and every-day, next door people.
Yet, there is gravitas in the writing which comes from the author's own mature perceptions about life:
"She who had never really thought of motherhood as something especially fulfilling, and in fact, who had bantered about those who treated it as a career goal, now began to feel an emptiness in her life – in their lives. There was less laughter, less quarrelling, less making up, and less making love. The magic seemed to have dimmed, and the unravelling begun. Distance and politeness prevailed where there should have been impulsiveness and closeness."
It is comforting to read stories that still have mention of annas, nazirs, gaddis, riyasats and Circuit Houses; rickety roads, ravines and rugged landscapes that possess a rustic majesty of their own because of failed rains; narrow-gauge trains whose shrill engine whistles ricochet off stone walls as they chug through a small tunnel, with the train driver frequently whistling to keep stray cattle, blue buck, bear and wild boar off the tracks. Takes you back in time to the early eighties, to hill stations like Pachmarhi, Chikaldhara and Amarkantak when as district officials we travelled at best in canvas topped Willy jeeps, stayed overnight in PWD rest houses which were the only halting places and depended on wireless messages to announce our program because there were no mobile phones. Even phone calls were intermediated by an operator.
Those were the halcyon days that these lovely stories capture and recreate, days that we now wish would never end. Times of love, peace, respect and overall happiness.