The author of video, a gorgeous collection of understated stories, isn't the same Mira Nair who directed the brilliant Monsoon Wedding. Still, the stories in Video serve as a literary counterpoint to that film. Both Nairs share an uncanny eye for the beautiful details of the ordinary and an ability to delicately critique the particulars of life in contemporary India without being too heavy-handed.Nair avoids the same-old same-old by placing her portraits of husbands and wives and sons and daughters within strikingly unusual storylines.
In the title piece, a man struggles to ask his wife for a blow job after stumbling upon a piece of porn, and must win back her respect. Another story centres on an arranged marriage in which an emigré husband with a preternatural sense of smell tries to teach his newly Westernized wife how to cook.
Nair's prose is deft and clean. She has a talent for writing around the obvious, leaving revelations in what's left unsaid. In Summer, one of the most moving pieces in the collection, she frames an incident of incest during a lazy school holiday within the context of a children's play based on a sacred text. Rather than recounting the heartbreaking moment in detail, she slips into a vivid description of the frightened young girl's overwhelming sensory experience of her surroundings.
The scene is reminiscent of a similar moment in Arundhati Roy's The God Of Small Things, but, unlike Roy, Nair emphasizes allusion rather than a play-by-play recap, making her story that much more powerful.
And the many voices within the collection ring true -- she has a real knack for getting inside the heads of different characters, from the bereaved daughter of a journalist who returns home for her father's funeral to the naive restaurant delivery boy with an unrequited crush on a marble salesman.
Nair only falters when she eschews the everyday in favour of magic realism. The dreamy, Pygmalionesque The Sculptor Of Sands tries too hard to be a contemporary fairy tale and comes off as contrived self-indulgence.
But Nair stays grounded throughout the rest of these stories, offering poetic glimpses of a culture in flux.