Click to view Profile
Semeen Ali
‘Floating Islands’
Semeen Ali

Floating Islands |
Collection of Short Stories | Chandra Mohan Bhandari |
Notion Press, Chennai | 2020 | ISBN: 978-1648501821 | pp 184 | 220


Inconsistencies of life well-captured

We contain pockets of memories within ourselves. Some touch each other while others remain distant and refuse to merge to form a linear narrative. We are all a product of these jarred narratives that grow within us. Narratives that we have created or have been created by others for us- about us. At times they burn out and we are left with empty spaces- spaces that we fill with new pockets of memories and at times, those memories continue to grow, adding new branches to it. At times one turns to the imaginative bent of mind to fill those gaps regarding a memory that seems to be as real as it was before it turned into one’s past. The book turns into a laboratory of the working of the mind where time turns subjective and the experiences that have been collected take on a colouration. The images that turn up in these stories is an example of an image-making that memory turns to, when translating them into words.

This collection of stories Floating Islands contains both the sides of a coin. At times, it branches out and merges to create a pattern while at times it turns stories into stand-alone ones. The author has not minced his words in narrating/looking back at moments that he registers in this book. It is a collection of stories – memories – that shine out individually. At the beginning, the author points out for his readers the interconnectedness of the people – the title of the book finds its way directly and indirectly seeping through his stories. The natural landscape plays an important part in these stories. At one level, one can look within to rediscover the self by tuning out the material world and synchronizing with the natural world- the point of reference becomes turning to a world that has always been there and not modified or reinterpreted by humans. By immersing oneself in the often used term “lap of nature”, one seeks to reinvent to a certain extent a definition regarding the self.

Thematically the book explores and looks into varied ideas – that move from the interior worlds to the exterior ones but the common thread that runs through all of these stories is the voice of the narrator. He is omnipresent and makes sure the story does not go off course. He makes sure the reader stays attentive and the deviation is only a temporal one.  The voice and the world that it introduces are interdependent on each other, as it has been observed by several critics when it comes to the narrative voice that there is no tale without the teller and no teller without the tale. The narrative voice comes across as a public one but in fact is not entirely so. It creates, rather, brings a world into the text. The voice turns into a presence in every story that is a part of this book and brings with it a certain kind of an authoritative quality to a narration. There is another interesting facet that comes out from this book and that is of the relationship that the characters have with the city – some flee away from it while some embrace it. A dichotomy that remains within when it comes to the dubious relationship one shares with the city is played out in the book. The distancing of oneself physically from the city and at times the merging with the character of the city has been brought out really well in the book.

The stories are not simple ones but have layers of thoughts that need to be uncovered slowly. A certain melancholy hangs over these stories giving it a philosophical outlook. The characters most of them male are not the usual stereotypes that one has got used to reading about, rather, the inner turmoil as well as the sensitivities to one’s environment as well as their reactions to situations that life throws at them finds a place here. The conversational style included in these stories sheds light on the workings of a mind that is surrounded by forces that attempt to stifle one’s voice. Kaleidoscopes of emotions are played out in these stories. It comes out in waves – attempting to touch the hems of one’s existence and withdrawing at the same time. Somehow these stories remind me of one of the poems by Langston Hughes who says –

Wave of sorrow,
Do not drown me now:

I see the island
Still ahead somehow.

I see the island
And its sands are fair:

Wave of sorrow,
Take me there…

Floating Islands is a book that reminds one of the inconsistencies that life is all and  how it is best to live in that moment instead of either mulling over what has been or standing in expectation thinking of what could be.


Issue 94 (Nov-Dec 2020)

Book Reviews
  • Atreya Sarma U: ‘Clueless’
  • Azra Naqvi: ‘The Art and Science of Ghazal’
  • Giti Tyagi: ‘Land Lust’
  • GSP Rao: ‘Our World – A Symphony of Drabbles
  • Lakshmi Kannan: ‘Devi – The BoundlessA Daughter’s Inward Journey’
  • Pushpa Subramanian: ‘The Demons of Jaitraya’
  • Ravi Ranganathan: ‘Horizon of poetic twinkles’
  • Revathi Raj Iyer: ‘The Vengeance’
  • Savita Kiran: ‘Morarji Desai – A Profile in Courage’
  • Semeen Ali: ‘Floating Islands’
  • Semeen Ali: ‘Shades of the City’
  • Sukanya Saha: ‘On the Trail of Buddha – A Journey to the East’
  • Veni M: ‘Baluchars – The Woven Narrative Silks of Bengal’