A prominent figure of the Progressive Writer's Movement, Krishan Chander is an accomplished entity in Hindi and Urdu short story writing. The stalwarts of Hindi-Urdu literature of this time have a peculiar flavour exclusive to them. It is the history, the society, the economic and political backdrop against which the stories with poignant crux are told. It is expected that an unpredictable twist must happen in a story that is set in a time around Partition. The Dark River is an exception to this generality.
This novelette is a story which is not confined by a society, history, or politics of a time. It is a story about people and their psyche that has remained since the beginning of humanity. This story is about the timeless beauty of a valley, about villagers who collectively are a part of something they must never breathe a word about, about a man's longing for love and a woman's capacity to sense that. This is a tale of greed, lust, and rapaciousness that leads a dreamy, other-worldly man to solve a decade old murder mystery, and a woman to feign incompetence to disguise her acumen.
The Dark River flows with romance and suspense, coursing through instances that are related to everybody's life at some point: the concern of a respectably placed father about his disinterested son, a friendless person seeking solace in the company of nature, the exhaustion from an arduous journey and bonding with strangers along the way, the jealousy of a husband at seeing his wife exchange niceties with another man. The feeling of fear of the unknown, and greater fear of what is expected to happen is the secret that is kept from the protagonist.
A woman's honour is not entirely her own. Any harm done to that is a failure of her protectors. A man's manhood stands questionable if any neglect of his responsibility results in disgrace to his women. This is the thought that lead the village priest to commit suicide when his daughter is abducted and most expected to be raped. A woman's decision to stand by her commitment indomitably, however terrible and abusive the situation maybe, is a matter of honour and self-respect to her. With an ailing, dying, and increasingly ill-tempered husband as Mahmood, Naseema, a thorough city-bred, rich, and modern woman decides to serve her husband in anonymity and seclusion of a cottage home in the hills. Mahmood's death is no impetus for Naseema to turn to her old lover who still waits for her.
The frequent whiffs of supernatural give the narration a thriller effect, while unfolding man's nature to believe, tendency and desire to seek out, and yet be afraid of and dismiss the thought of a ghost. The life of the archaeological artist will never be the same after his stint at Beedarva village in the mountains.
In keeping with a simple, generic, and unlimiting theme, The Dark River and Other Stories revolve around pivots that are not exclusive to any historical time period but manifest in all ages, in spite of any barriers of time, society, or gender. The life of a little girl transits from Lata to Sakina to Lana O'Brien. She is blessed with what most women hanker for, ethereal beauty. Her beauty gets her sold out of poverty at six. Her beauty gets her invested in, and her beauty gets her rich. But all her riches fail to buy her the happiness of a blushing innocent bride on her wedding day.
And that remains The Same Old Desire of a girl; whether born in misery, or raised in filth, or painted and polished to wipe out a grisly past for a glittering present and an uncertain future.
Plums is the retrospection of a middle-aged wealthy man who has been all around the world. He comes back to Kashmir to find his valley still intact after decades, until he is reminded brutally that his wealth has dissolved that poor, handsome young man whose charm once gave him a lifetime memory to cherish. He is reminded that he no longer has that innocence that allowed him to harmlessly admire a woman.
“Between this touch and that, was the touch of many women who were battering themselves, their bodies, their emotions, for pounds, dollars, francs, dinars. It was just a trade. It never translated into music”. Times have changed, and there seem to be no pleasant reminders of it.
This anthology is a timeless collection of Indian fiction that serves to reflect perennial predicaments and tireless trudging through them.