Darius Cooper’s world is not a pleasant place to inhabit. Its characters exude fear, loathing and various bodily odours. Its streets reek of urine and hopelessness. Its imagery involves masticating vultures in the Tower of Silence and other unlovely aspects of death.

The Fuss About Queens and Other Stories is a collection of 11 short stories, set largely in the Bombay of the 1970s—a city that runs on clacking typewriters and telex machines. Where irritable moviegoers queue up for hours and “aunties” sell illicit liquor. The Bombay of Cooper’s memory is a dreary place without laughter. Somehow, he has held onto the stereotypes and ugly details of the city in which he spent a part of his youth. The energy and redemptive spirit have drained away.

Readers encounter narrators from various backgrounds. There’s Neelkanth, a man plagued by a feeling of obsolescence, who wanders the city seeking a “metaphorical spot” in which to commit suicide. There’s Salma, a dancing girl, who accepts—after only the briefest protest—that her daughter will follow in her footsteps. And Pestonji, a septuagenarian who dreads his inevitable encounter with the hungry vultures in the tower.

This motley crew of characters represents an array of Bombayites. Some live on the 18th storey, others in tumbledown chawls; some are morgue attendants and others ambitious students. What is strange though, is that most of the narrators possess the same disgusted, weary worldview— which makes the stories tedious and repetitive.

Many of the stories focus on the “strange enigma which the world in general and India in particular categorises as the Parsis”. Here, too, Cooper slides into the realm of stereotypes: the Parsi widower who sleeps with his “gangabai”; the devoted wife who slaves in the kitchen, her fingers marinated with adoo-lasan; the finicky professor of English literature. Still, it is in two stories—’The Fuss About Queens’ and ‘It Takes Two to Bhagdig’—that the book acquires sudden life. It’s a real pity that Cooper didn’t employ the same humour and tolerance through the book.