‘The Philanderer’ by Mahesh Rao

I love the book of short stories this comes from and my favourite changes each time I’ve reread it. The title of the complete book comes from there being “1.2 billion people living in India; more than 1.2 billion stories in one country”. Each story focusses on one of those stories, and does so with the sort of deft, humorous, gentle, brutal, careful skill that makes me know I’ll never truly be a proper writer of short stories.

‘The Philanderer’ is a story that’s so simple in tone that it belies the sophistication of the telling. A divorced man who seems outside of his sexual conquests, who happens to wear a range of ties, all different shades of cerulean, is awful, yet longing, and hoping, and also so matter of fact and unaware of his inner self, that there are moments where you feel empathy, or disgust, or you laugh. Or something else. It’s such good writing, without ever showing off.

It makes me laugh. It also makes me wince. It says far more than the amount of words in it really should, and that’s all to do with the skill in the writing, which is not show-offy but subtle, elegant and funny. I love it.

He dissuaded his partners from chatter during sex, whether it was talk of private parts, immanent manoeuvres or, more simply, praise. He found it gauche and distracting. But not everyone would comply.
‘What this country needs,’ one woman had said, her face glistening as she held onto the headboard, ‘is more Muslims. Like you. Secular.’
Unwilling to respond at that precise moment he said, ‘I’m very close. Here, bite on my thumb.’
 You should read the whole book, really. But, today, this is my favourite.
from One Point Two Billion, Daunt Books, 2015

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