Spooky fables with a local touch

TCA Srinivasa Raghavan | Updated on November 17, 2021

In Baker’s Dozen, Arun Hariharan tells understated little tales that have chilling endings

It’s not easy to write good short stories. And it’s even harder to write good horror short stories. And to find a soldier who can do it is, well, next to impossible. Which is why you should read this book.

Hariharan retired from the army as a colonel. That means he spent around 20 years in uniform. In those 20-odd years he served in different parts of India, from where he generated the ideas that he has turned into these short stories.

There are, as the title suggests, 13 stories. Each is based in or on some little, forgotten corner of India. Each has an underlying grain of local fable. So you end up learning something too.

As Hariharan says in the introduction, each place mentioned in the book really does exist. A trivia section at the end of the book gives out more information on some of the people, places and incidents figuring in the stories, lending a touch of eerie realism to the tales.

These are not your stereotypical horror stories — loud and gory like those Ramsey Brothers films used to be. The genre here is more spooky because everything is so understated. These are quiet little tales that have horrific endings in just the last one or two lines.

Thus someone turns into a bat. Someone else turns into a scarecrow. One guy is eaten by a huge dog. Another shoots at 100 year old ghosts and dies. Another gets two new hands after his own have been amputated by a train running over them. The new hands, from wrist down, is where the ‘cleaverness’ lies.

The trick Hariharan performs so admirably is to get you to say “ouch” when you reach the end. And you don’t want to quickly turn to the end. The way he writes you want to read every word, line and paragraph, even though in some places the editing could have been better.

It must be hoped that Hariharan will write a companion volume in which he includes Misrodh near Bhopal. The story is that it’s called that after one Miss Rod who committed suicide in a village nearby after being jilted by her lover.

Another one is about the circuit house near Jabalpur which was visited by an Englishman’s ghost over Christmas. He had killed himself out of sheer loneliness. Running the empire had its attendant dangers.

One final word. The thing about short stories is that they don’t always have to have an ending. Sometimes it makes sense to let them just meander away. John O’Hara, who wrote 1000-word stories for the Saturday Evening Post for several years, was a master at this.

Hariharan can add that little trick to his repertoire once in a while. A short story after all isn’t a novel.

A Baker’s Dozen -13 Chilling Indian Tales of Macabre
  • By Arun Hariharan
  • Published by Creative Crow
  • Pages: 156. Price: Rs 450

Check out the book on Amazon

(TCA Srinivasa Raghavan is a senior journalist, columnist and author of several books, including a novel Goodbye to All That: A Delhi Story )

Published on November 17, 2021

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