No Presents Please is a selection of 16 short stories by Jayant Kaikini, an Indian author writing in Kannada. Dating from 1986-2006, the stories are entirely set in Mumbai, presenting the city at different times and from different fascinating perspectives.
The protagonist of A Spare Pair of Legs is a young boy, Chandu, who is so naughty that his parents decide to send him to a school for problematic children. But his only dream during the trip to the capital is to find prostheses for an elderly disabled man, his only friend. In the titlular No Presents Please, a young couple tries to choose the perfect invitations for their weddin; in Water, three strangers meet in a taxi during a massive Mumbai downpour that paralyzes the city…
Kaikini’s characters are ordinary people, strangers whom we ourselves could meet in everyday life: from a young couple, through drivers, neighbours from the flat above, blue collar workers. Young and old, Mumbai-born and immigrants, they all lead normal, often poor, lives, their dreams limited by the harsh reality that surrounds them. But the stories are not sad, but rather have a certain dose of optimism. The storties quickly draw you into the world of Bombay side streets, chawl – small, crowded multi-family buildings, local shops and cafes.
Kaikini beautifully creates engaging stories and real flesh and blood characters, writing in a vivid and poetic way. It’s hard not to get attached to the characters and not wish for them to solve their problems successfully – but Kaikini is a master of cliffhangers and most of the stories end quite ambiguously, sometimes with a touch of surrealism. The variety of characters, stories, situations, emotions, and micro-worlds in which the action takes place creates a beautiful and engaging whole, woven into a colorful, lively, constantly changing Mumbai.