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In this essay, Geetanjali Singh Chanda explores the idea of the nation, and its representation as a house or home in postcolonial Indian English literature. The author identifies that this literature has a dual parentage that manifests in its narratives, where characters with fragmented identities negotiate to make India their home.
Chanda explores this depiction of ‘Indianness’ through three prominent literary works: Nayantara Sahgal’s Rich Like Us (1983), Meena Alexander’s Nampally Road (1991), and Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1997). She focuses on the treatment of history within these narratives, and the struggle of characters to reconcile their personal or national history with the post-colonial present. This is done by connecting the events in the text to a significant historical event—like the Indian Independence in 1947, or the Emergency of 1975, which becomes the setting of both Rich Like Us and Nampally Road.
While an exhaustive study of the novels’ characters and storyline shows differences in their narratives and the authors’ perspectives, Chanda identifies common themes of disillusionment, belonging, and a complicated relationship with a house, which in each narrative becomes symbolic of the characters’ relationship with the nation. Women in particular seem to have tenuous relationships with the house, often being marginalized in the idea of the nation. But their relationships with each other seem to transcend national and ethnic identities, and help them navigate through the nation. Chanda focuses on these relationships in particular, associating the motherland with the biological mother.
After the success of These Hills Called Home and Once Upon a Life, Temsula Ao returns to her beloved Nagaland to bring readers the beautifully crafted story of Aosenla, a woman who is coming to terms with herself. The novel opens on a typical summer afternoon that soon turns into another oppressive evening. Aosenla sits listening to her children playing nearby and is seized by a great lethargy. As she casts a watchful gaze over the house she has called home for so many years, Aosenla wonders how an inanimate structure like a house can exercise such power over a human being.
Looking down at a wedding invitation in her hands, Aosenla begins to recall her own wedding many years ago, initiating a deep and moving reflection on the life that others made for her and the life that she eventually created for herself.
Avinuo Kire is a fresh, young voice from Nagaland, in India's northeast.
In "The Power to forgive", the title story of this strong collection. Avinuo Kire tells the moving story of a rape survivor who, at the threshold of a new life, looks back on the incident that has shaped nearly two decades of her life and wonders if she made the right choice.
Called from folk and tribal traditions of Naga life, Kire's stories take us into a world where spirits converse with humans, unsuspecting people are drawn into the movement for Naga independence, a man dies quietly of cancer, a mother wonders if she did the right thing in giving her child a name different from the one she intended...
With insight and compassion, Avinuo Kire draws fine portraits of ordinary people in Naga society.
First published in Marathi in 1966, this unique novella in free verse tells an age-old story: that of a woman’s deep desire to be a mother
Setting out life as a game in which the moves are predetermined, and yet where rules exist only to be twisted, perhaps negotiated, sometimes even changed, Anuradha Vaidya deftly engages the reader in a sort of play, suggesting a joining of the dots, a connecting of line endings that lead the reader deeper into the story.
As the story traces a relationship that begins with unquestioning love that, over time, transforms into tension and distance, the reader is encouraged to linger, or jump back and forth across stanzas and lines, to navigate, interpret, and savour the beauty of the expression, both in the turn of phrase and the coinage of new words.
The sheer beauty of the almost allegorical imagery of life as a game played on the worldly board by people who are actually pawns, marks every page of this poetic narrative.
Fateema opened her diary and began writing: “Jihad as mentioned by the Prophet is a war against injustice and oppression. Islam means peace and surrender. Islam does not recommend killing innocent people. The Prophet released hundreds of slaves from bondage and sent themback to their native land.”
There was a lot more she could write. She would one day. Not for others, but to her own people she would explain the meaning of the word ‘Islam’.
For a bright young woman like Fateema Lokhandwala, the idea that one day she might own her own house is a daring dream. Her father has spent his life, slaving away selling scrap metal so that his children might ‘jump the fence of poverty and illiteracy’. Fateema dreams not only of owning her own house, but of higher education, a better job, a wider world. Her brother, Kareem, is persuaded down a very different path – to join the jihad, to become a holy warrior.
Ila Arab Mehta’s moving and sharply observed novel follows one woman’s struggle to find her way in a world torn by communal violence, to reconcile her conflicting loyalties to her family and friends, to find a place that she can ultimately call ‘home’, a place where fences –between communities, between people – are no longer necessary.
In which an uncast ballot precipitates social embarrassment and recalls a past love, a young housewife finds her kitchen plagued by unabashed canoodling in the flat next door, an aspiring novelist tries to forget near-manslaughter, a schoolgirl discovers the travails of depilation, and, in a locked room, two medieval noblewomen recount the amorous avowals of a young soldier.
There’s also the small matter of a dead camel lying unattended on the streets of Delhi.
These twelve stories explore the unsaid, the unfinished and the misunderstood, the shocks and nuances of love and sexuality, responsibility and ambition, and our tentative attempts to peel away the layers of stories that make up our lives.
“Beautifully precise writing. These stories capture people with such exactitude that you know they must come from a serious student of life. But this is one of those serious books at which you never stop laughing, for Parvati Sharma’s sense of the world is lively, generous and wickedly original.”
— Rana Dasgupta, author of Solo
It's raining in Shillong. Eight-year-old Sophie Das has just realised she is adopted, but there is also the baby kicking inside her mother s stomach whom she s dying to meet. IAS aspirant Aman Moondy is planning a first-of-its-kind Happening and praying the lovely Concordella will come. College lecturer Firdaus Ansari is going to finish her thesis, have a hard talk with her boyfriend, and then get out.
Poetic, funny, tender, Lunatic in my Head is a moving portrait of a small town and of three people joined to each other in an intricate web, determined to break out of their small town destinies.
Narrated in the intimate anger of a young woman's journal-keeping voice, this novel explores the politics of sex and class through the lives of women compelled to live their lives in the seclusion of the inner courtyard or aangan. Set in the thirties India, Inner Courtyard is the story of a dystopic home where the battles of the world are played out. Based on the interiority of women's lives it explores realpolitik through the personal and political affiliations of one family.
Sita Mirchandani, a Hindu refugee from Singh, now living in India, Salma and Surayya, two Muslim girls from U.P. who are forced to move to Pakistan, Tanvir Fatima is in Karachi and not quite sure why she is there – these are the characters who inhabit these works of fiction. Originally published as “Sitaharan”, “Housing Society” and “Patjhad ki Awaz”, the stories explore the cataclysmic events that have unmoored the lives of these women and how each, in her own way, battles with a state or exile that is more internal than external. Together they unfold a series of betrayals—historical, political, personal—and how the women struggle to come to terms with them.
Qurratulain Hyder is one of the leading writers of Urdu fiction in India. She was awarded the Bhartiya Jnanpith, India’s highest literary award, in 1989. The recipient of a number of other literary awards, she is a Fellow of the Sahitya Akademi, has travelled widely and has worked as a journalist and broadcaster.
C. M. Naim has taught Urdu Language and Literature at the University of Chicago in the Department of South Asian Languages and Civilizations since 1961. He co-founded Mahfil (The Journal of South Asian Literature) in 1963 and the Annual of Urdu Studies in 1981.
In Other Words brings you 14 of the most innovative and adventurous contemporary Indian women writers. The stories in this collection are remarkable not only for this richness of subject and style, but also for the confidence and poise of their writing. All the authors, except two, belong to the post-Independence generation. Their preoccupations range from an observation of the past through the lives of their ancestresses, to that of the present, sparkling, but exquisitely poignant vignette of growing up urban in the 80's. For some, fiction writing- and the short story in particular- is relatively new; each writer approaches the language in which she has chosen to write-English-and the art and craft of fiction writing, with a confidence and panache that is hard to match.
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