Loyal Stalkers – Chhimi Tenduf-La
--reviewed by Divya Dubey
[Published in India Today mag, July 15, 2017: https://www.indiatoday.in/magazine/leisure/story/20170724-loyal-stalkers-book-chimmi-tenduf-la-1024304-2017-07-15]
Loyal Stalkers, Chimmi Tenduf-La’s latest offering – a collection of interlinked short stories – is a far cry from The Amazing Racist, his first and perhaps most popular work of fiction. Yet his most serious tales reveal a dapple of cheerfulness that marks him as a unique writer. A stark contrast between subject and style means he risked the collection being dismissed as superficial by some. Curiously enough, this peculiarity only heightens the darkness and makes the narrative more hard hitting.
An amalgam of sanguine and gloomy the fifteen stories evoke a thousand emotions in the reader simultaneously, keeping them on edge all the time. While the
‘happier’ ones such as Lovable Idiot, My Fair and Lovely Lady, and Everyone Has to Eat, have a somewhat Manu Bhattathiri-like feel to them despite a shadow of melancholy in the background, the others are simply disconcerting. The title story, Loyal Stalker, for instance, where Chin-up Channa, a gym instructor obsessed with his beautiful rich client, first follows her abroad and then takes to living in her house like a phantom, watching, observing, and acting on her behalf – all without her knowledge.
Another is The Dog Thrown Off a Building, probably inspired by a recent real-life incident in India, whose video went viral on social media, but with a twist towards the end. Other examples include White Knight, Devil Mask Tattoo and Tuk Tuk Bang among others – that create the same creepy feeling and sense of anticipation that Ruth Rendell stories tend to do. As the title points out, there isn’t one stalker but several. But all these stories are also strangely poignant. The best part about them is their ability to spring surprises upon the most widely read reader. Tenduf-La does it over and over again convincingly. Meanwhile, the larger plot develops subtly, almost imperceptibly, and unfolds only towards the end.
Tenduf-La’s characters throb with life: Chin-up Channa – the gym instructor, the cricket coach (Coach Uncle), Jinesena – the security guard at Monsoon Lodge, Pasindu Amarasinghe – the young cricketer with an overzealous mother, Kiyoma – the battered maid soldie
ring on in her life. Only, the writer seems to have a soft corner for fair women, since majority of those who appear in the book are described as such.
Overall it is a brilliant collection – one of the few to appear in quite some time that rekindles the reader’s interest in the short format.