I am presently perusing a collection of short stories titled “Best Indian Short Stories – Volume I, selected (not edited?) by Khushwant Singh. Many of the stories are translations. So it is not necessarily a collection of best Indian stories written in English, but claiming to encompass the entire literary gamut of the subcontinent. This is a difficult task, and the superlative title is one certainly destined to remain incomplete or essentially unfulfilled in scope. For there are gems hidden in every language, for instance Bangla, of West Bengal, which has produced brilliant poets and writers and continue to do so, is not represented at all in any of the stories in Volume I, though there are several stories based in Calcutta (oops, Kolkata now). But such debates are perhaps unavoidable for any such collection aiming to represent the best of breed of anything. What is best is also transitory and quintessentially subjective, thus the futility of any such claims.
Putting behind such argumentative propensities, some of the stories thus far have been quite engrossing, a motley mix of social landscapes, communal tensions, humor, introspection and adventure, perhaps more.
I have always liked reading Ruskin Bond, his quiet, personal narrative of reflective characters far away from any sort of limelight, and there are two of his stories here. One of them, “The Leopard”, is a shorter version of what I had read earlier, in a collection titled “The Night Train at Deoli and Other Stories”, published by Penguin in 1988. This one is much shorter, and appears to end suddenly, though I must admit that the thematic essence, that of human intervention of nature, is not really lost. I wonder if it was Mr. Bond who revised his story, or Mr. Singh (and hopefully with the writers’ consent). I would be grateful to anyone who could could shed some light on the matter, the motive behind the revision and the choice of the latter in this collection. And wouldn’t it be wonderful, if Mr. Bond or Mr. Singh would chance upon my humble piece here and express their ideas? If such a wish were to come true, and Mr. Bond or Mr. Singh or both happen to read this at some point in the future since its writing, I would still be bold enough to make the statement that revisions, and some would argue strongly against it, do not always end up producing a better story. Was the newer intended to replace the former, or simply to coexist? That is my question.
My case to the point: The grandiose Biblical quote that concludes the butchered version somehow doesn’t resonate as well as the simple D.H. Lawrence quote in the former: “There was room in the world for the mountain lion and me.”