Making a Place Come Alive

from In Other Rooms, Other Wonders
Daniyal Mueenuddin

The next evening Jaglani returned to Dunyapur at dusk, after a day spent on the farms, the jeep's twin lights poking into the night. Peasants bringing their buffalos back from watering at the canal stood aside and saluted, the heavy bells hanging from the animals' necks making a mournful hollow gonging. Some had old shoes tied around their necks, as amulets against the evil eye. Only Jaglani's house had electricity, and as they drove along the dusty main street of the village, lanterns glowed in the unshuttered windows and cook fires threw orange light on the mud walls.  The village smelled of dung and dust and smoke and of the mango blossoms in the surrounding orchard.

Each reader finds the things within a work that appeals to him or her, in this case it is the litany of small details--the shoes around the necks of the animals, the orange light of the cook fires, and the smell of the mango blossoms, really transforms this scene for me into something immediate and real.  I can see it, smell it, almost taste the perfume of those blossoms (though I'm not much interested in tasting the rest).  It is masterful, controlled, clear, and to a purpose.  That's writing.


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