Winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature and the Atta Galatta–Bangalore Literature Festival Lifetime Achievement Award, Jayant Kaikini is one of India's most celebrated short-story writers.
For readers of Jhumpa Lahiri and Rohinton Mistry, as well as Lorrie Moore and George Saunders, here are stories on the pathos and comedy of small-town migrants struggling to build a life in the big city, with the dream world of Bollywood never far away.
Jayant Kaikini’s gaze takes in the people in the corners of Mumbai — a bus driver who, denied vacation time, steals the bus to travel home; a slum dweller who catches cats and sells them for pharmaceutical testing; a father at his wits’ end who takes his mischievous son to a reform institution.
In this metropolis, those who seek find epiphanies in dark movie theaters, the jostle of local trains, and even in roadside keychains and lost thermos flasks. Here, in the shade of an unfinished overpass, a factory-worker and her boyfriend browse wedding invitations bearing wealthy couples’ affectations — ‘no presents please’ — and look once more at what they own.
Translated from the Kannada by Tejaswini Niranjana, these resonant stories, recently awarded the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, take us to photo framers, flower markets, and Irani cafes, revealing a city trading in fantasies while its strivers, eating once a day and sleeping ten to a room, hold secret ambitions close.
‘As Invisible Cities was Calvino’s ode to Venice, Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please is a love letter to Mumbai — its citizens, their struggles and triumphs. The language and cast of characters combine to offer readers a bouquet of rough diamonds and freshwater pearls.’
Devi S. Laskar, author of The Atlas of Reds and Blues
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‘Like a glimpse into a crowd in which each face suddenly becomes clear, No Presents Please brilliantly illuminates ordinary lives in the modern world.’
Maxim Loskutoff, author of Come West and See
‘Jayant Kaikini’s stories are like portals opening from the routines of our lives into the unusual and mysterious, where everything contains unseen possibilities. For the outsiders in these stories, even the act of dreaming feels rebellious. A wonderful, and wonderfully translated, collection of stories.’
Akil Kumarasamy, author of Half Gods
‘Like no other Indian writer, Jayant Kaikini brilliantly reveals the foundations of Mumbai concealed under its high-rises. Kaikini perceptively captures details from the inner lives of people who have become a part of Mumbai, a microcosm of India. Even the most ordinary happenings in these stories have traces of history in them, with little gestures evoking deep memories. The joys in routine chores from everyday lives, the unfading aspirations of innocent lives even in the face of the macabre — Kaikini unravels all of this with a subtle lightness. He captures the transformation Indian cities are undergoing, but not without recognising the tussle between the worldviews of the village and the city.’
Vivek Shanbhag, author of Ghachar Ghochar
‘This Mumbai is not a distantly observed city. Kaikini is right there, in the midst of it, rubbing shoulders with his people, intuiting their lives and emotions through skin-touch.’
Shanta Gokhale, Mumbai Mirror
‘An insightful, illuminating, and powerful collection. Kaikini’s evocative stories are infused with the body and soul of Mumbai … Kaikini is powerful and valuable as a documenter, a mapper of the city. But he is much more than that … He is an antenna, gathering up the city’s dreams and hurt, bewilderment and rage, and transmitting them ever so gently back into the zeitgeist. The result is a gift worth receiving.’
Trisha Gupta, Scroll
‘Dense with details and gentle observations, these stories explore the lives of people we see without seeing, every single day … Kaikini examines these small but brave lives with deep sympathy. He captures their voices with unerring humour; conjures up their world with exquisite precision; and recreates the strange blend of anonymity and intimacy that is so characteristic of this teeming megapolis by the sea.’
Shabnam Minwalla, The Hindu
‘Kaikini is one of the foremost writers of short fiction in Kannada and the translation makes it evident that he is a master of the form.’
M.K. Raghavendra, Firstpos
‘There are many arresting and haunting moments in Jayant Kaikini’s No Presents Please… Kaikini uses his considerable talent to yoke together quotidian images to create a picture of Mumbai that’s both exact and impressionistic.’
Sanjay Sipahimalani, CNBC TV18
‘The collection affirms Kaikini as one of the most influential writers today.’
Nikhil Govind, The Times of India
‘Very few writers have caught the absurdities, pathos and comic turmoil that drive life in an Indian city today with the vibrancy of Jayant Kaikini.’
‘Jayant Kaikini’s compassionate gaze takes in the people in the corners of the city … This is a Bombay book, a Mumbai book, a Momoi book, a Mhamai book, and it is not to be missed.’
‘No Presents Please is a compelling and engaging collection which demonstrates why Kaikini has the reputation he has. In this series of quick sketches he brings a range of complex characters to life and over the course of these stories he exposes the spirit of the city of Mumbai.’
Pile by the Bed