The world is always in movement,” wrote V.S. Naipaul, the late British novelist and travel writer. It’s an apt description for the themes and characters—the “restless feet and wandering spirits”—in Swapna and Ashis Gupta’s co-written book of short stories, The Irrelevance Of Space. In settings ranging from Scandinavia to Canada, Eastern Europe, Iran, Cuba and the USA, the six stories here transcend geographical boundaries and trace the permeable borders and diverse emotional terrain of human relationships. Although differing greatly, the stories are each rooted in local settings, revealing the diversity of human experience around the globe.
Swapna Gupta, a clinical psychologist, and her husband Ashis, a former professor of management studies at the University of Calgary, reside in Calgary. Their skillfully crafted and compelling stories draw from both their Alberta connections and their extensive travels. In the title story, “The Irrelevance of Space,” two strangers—Neil, a graduate student from Norway afflicted with a neurological impairment, and a Calgary resident (the narrator) recovering from the same medical condition—come into contact after Neil travels to Calgary for surgery. The operation is successful, which leads the narrator to exclaim in astonishment: “I sometimes wonder if there is such a thing as “Divine Intervention” or is it all “Chance.” Or “Luck” perhaps!”
In contrast, “The Cyberdeath Files,” the longest story in the collection, is full of suspense. In North America, academics, entrepreneurs, poets and journalists are dying in mysterious circumstances in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Durham and Calgary. Laloo Singh, an Indian computer engineer, meets Amanda, a Chinese-American woman, and together they work to solve the mystery. It’s a thriller, but also an exploration of cross-cultural relationships. Says Amanda to Laloo, after they fall in love: “We represent a third of the world’s population. Just imagine what a marvellous team we would make.”
Resilience in the face of adversity is the dominant theme in “Fal-E-Hafez.” Leila, living in Iran, is immersed in thoughts about the end of her marriage in Canada. For solace she turns to the songs of Hafez, Persia’s 14th century lyrical poet, a cultural icon among Iranians today. His songs haunt Leila when she’s happy and when she’s sad and lost. According to Iranian tradition, when individuals face difficulty, they can ask Hafez for help—and find answers to their predicament in his lyrical poems. The story is full of yearning, and in the end Leila suggests to her mother that they travel together to Canada.
Ranging widely in location and theme, The Irrelevance of Space and Other Stories is a worthwhile and engaging read.
—Jamal Ali writes non-fiction in Calgary.