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This exciting new anthology show-cases 21 of the best short stories by South Asian women under the age of 40. Ranging from the lyrical to the humourous to the darkly disturbing, this collection highlights the desires, concerns and obsessions of young women from the subcontinent. A new generation of writers is emerging who are boldly tackling new forms and styles, including historical detective fiction, graphic short stories, stories intercut with email and sms messages. The stories are as varied as the women themselves, and celebrate the diversity and range of women's literature for the twenty-first century.
Contributors include Ruchika Chanana, Paromita Chakravarti, Roohi Choudhry, Tishani Doshi, Shahnaz Habib, Epsita Halder, Anjum Hasan, Meena Kandasamy, Mridula Susan Koshy, Revati Laul, Madhulika Liddle, Anju Mary Paul, Swarnalatha Rangarajan, Adithi Rao, Diana Romany, Sumana Roy, Ashima Sood, Aishwarya Subramanyam, Nisha Susan, Narmada Thiranagama and Annie Zaidi.
Anita Roy is a freelance critic and writer. Brought up in England, she has been based in New Delhi for over a decade, working as a publisher and editor for a variety of national and international publishing houses. She is currently commissioning editor with Young Zubaan.
The body as social and cultural text provides a rich site for creative experimentation in this collection of short stories by contemporary women writers of South Asia. In a world that tends to equate the body with biology, and femininity with the reproductive function, these writers from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka interrogate these assumptions and reinscribe the body as a source of resistance and self-empowerment. Identity, history, myth, scientific experiment, social heirarchies, sexuality, nationalism, violence, ethics and ecology are interwoven issues for which the body in these stories becomes a powerful signifier. Together, these bodymaps chart a subversive female geography that startles with its boldly inclusive vision.
Radha Chakravary teaches English at Gargi College, University of Delhi. She translates major Bengali writers such as Mahasweta Devi, Rabindranath Tagore and Bankimchandra into English. She was nominated for the Crossword Translation Award (2004) and received the Dr Radhakrishnan Memorial Award in 2006.
Contributors: Indira Goswami, Amrita Pritam, Bhuwan Dhungana, Ismat Chughtai, Mahasweta Devi, Ambai, Yashodhara Mishra, Kunzang Choden, Kathleen Jayawardene, Manjula Padmanabhan, Selina Hossain, Asha Kardaley, Easterine Iralu, Zaheda Hina and Kamala Das. The translators include Hina Nandrajog, Manjushree Thapa, Anjana Srivastava, Lakshmi Holmstrom, Mahasweta Baxipatra, Vijita Fernando, Keerti Ramachandra, Muhammad Umar Memon, V.C. Harris and C.K. Mohamed Ummer.
The Dungri Garasiya, an indigenous group in north Gujarat, believed that the first being to be created was woman and so in their society women were as respected as men and property passed down from mother to daughter.
At the dawn of creation, girls were as desired as sons. It was a time when girls beat boys in games and races: a time when there was no gender divide. And so also in these stories it is the women who are stronger, wiser, faster, sharper, and certainly far more beautiful than their men. It is they who think out of the box, who are imaginative and creative and full of wise ideas.
From tales of ghostly possession to magic mantras, from kings and queens full of passion to village youth bursting with sexual ardour, these timeless folktales are full of the joy of being alive, of sensual enjoyment and pleasure. While Kudrat (God is imagined as being feminine) and Deva conspire and wreak havoc on their people, the dance of life continues with naked young maidens swimming in the streams or being courted by dark handsome youths amidst much laughter and teasing. The forests are full of birds and beasts and fish and life for the tribals is for the most part simple and innocent, truth and right always prevail and defeat the forces of darkness — be it a scheming stepmother, a murderous wife or lover, or a cruel and lustful king.
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.
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.
When nine-year-old Ayman arrives in Hyderabad in the early 1950s to come and live at the Hussaini Alam House, she little realizes that the house, and its many inmates, will come to haunt her life and shape her destiny as she grows to become a woman. The house is ruled over by her grandfather, a dignified despot, whom everyone but Ayman, her mother and sister, call 'Sarkar' (master). Her mother, 'the eternal rebel,' is irreverent, progressive and a communist: a bomb waiting to explode. Ayman herself alternates between being the 'ugly duckling' of the house and its little princess. Huma Kidwai's sensitive and vivid portraits of the characters who teem around the House, offer a window into the customs and mores of a traditional Hyderabadi Muslim family. Narrated by the 40-year-old Ayman as she recalls the events of her past, The Hussaini Alam House is an elegy to a vanished way of life, a lovesong to the people she has loved and lost, and a psychologically nuanced portrait of the women of the household as they tread a fine line between society's expectations and their own yearning for freedom.
A man lies dying tended by his two daughters. A strangely absent presence, their father has dictated the shape of their lives -- sometimes distorting and at others shaping their hopes, ambitions and desires. To these two narrative strands, Belinder Dhanoa adds a third, that of the girls' mother - a strong and single-minded woman, who defies society's expectations of how a woman should behave.
Set partly in Shillong and partly in the Punjab, Belinder Dhanoa's novel is not only an insightful study of the pressures of living in a patriarchal society, but also a moving account of the complexities of family loyalties, betrayals and love.
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
Srinagar, capital city of the famed 'paradise on earth,' Kashmir. Ailan Gali, a deep, dark narrow lane that lies at its heart, where houses stand on a finger's width of space and lean crookedly against each other, so deep, so narrow, so closely connected that even thieves do not dare enter.
Yet people live and love here, they cling on to their old ways, they share stories and food, joys and sorrows, sufficient unto themselves. But the outside world beckons, youngsters begin to leave, and slowly change makes its way into Ailan Gali only to find its hitherto hidden mirror-image -- the change that has insidiously been working its way into the lives of those who are the gali's permanent residents.
This funny, poignant, evocative story of a Kashmir as yet untouched by violence, but with its shadows looming at the edges, is a classic of Hindi literature, available in English translation for the first time.
These deceptively simple stories uncover both the complexity and irony of women's lives in Bhutan today. They show how ordinary lives, choices and experiences are both remarkable and poignant. In I am a Small Person, a despised woman uses her femininity as a means to control a man, the young girl in I Won't ask Mother suddenly feels empowered and confident when she makes a decision without consulting her mother.
All the stories take place in rural settings, to which creeping urbanisation brings gradual change, and tensions surface between the new and the old, or the traditional and the modern. For many rural women, being able to connect to the city and all its perceived power and glamour is a very real aspiration. This yearning is exemplified in Look at her Belly Button, where a young woman effortlessly slips out of the role of a farmer to become a 'real Bhutanese' urbanite.
This touching and at times harrowing glimpse into the conflict-ridden Nagaland is now available in a brand new paperback edition as part of the Zubaan Classics series to celebrate Zubaan's 10th anniversary. More than half a century of bloodshed has marked the history of the Naga people who live in the troubled northeastern region of India. Their struggle for an independent Nagaland and their continuing search for identity provides the backdrop for the stories that make up this unusual collection. Describing how ordinary people cope with violence, how they negotiate power, and force, how they seek and find safe spaces and enjoyment in the midst of terror, the author details a way of life under threat from the forces of modernization and war.
No one -- the young, the old, the ordinary housewife, the willing partner, the militant who takes to the gun, and the young woman who sings even as she is being raped -- is untouched by the violence. Theirs are the stories that form the subtext of the struggles that lie at the internal fault lines of the Indian nation-state. These are stories that speak movingly of home, country, nation, nationality, identity, and direct the reader to the urgency of the issues that lie at their heart.
Temsula Ao is the Dean, School of Humanities and Education, North Eastern Hill University, Shillong.
"Temsula Ao, like many of her predecessors has successfully described the experiences of her people. The struggle for freedom and the search for identity have been discussed by many writers and these are pivotal themes of those who had to pay a heavy price for freedom. To this end Temsula Ao must be praised for her successful attempt." -- Shagufta Yasmeen, Dawn
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.
Patriarchy asserts men are superior to women
Feminism clarifies women and men are equal
Queerness questions what constitutes male and female
Queerness isn’t only modern, Western or sexual, says mythologist Devdutt Pattanaik. Take a close look at the vast written and oral traditions in Hinduism, some over two thousand years old, and you will find many overlooked tales, such as those of Shikhandi, who became a man to satisfy her wife; Mahadeva, who became a woman to deliver a devotee’s child; Chudala, who became a man to enlighten her husband; Samavan, who became the wife of his male friend, and many more . . .
Playful and touching—and sometimes disturbing—these stories, when compared with their Mesopotamian, Greek, Chinese and Biblical counterparts, reveal the unique Indian way of making sense of queerness.
Rabia is growing up in a conservative community in southern India. One day, she
and her friends sneak off to the pictures. Caught on her return home, Rabia gets a beating from her mother, Zohra, who cries as she beats her daughter into submission. Firdaus is beautiful and of marriageable age. A groom is found for her, a wealthy man who lives abroad. On her wedding night, she takes one look at him and says, 'I’m not going to live with you, don’t touch me!’ Inside their male dominated world, Rabia,
Zohra, Firdaus, and many others make their small rebellions and compromises, friendships are made and broken, families come together and fall apart, and almost imperceptibly change creeps in. Salma’s beautiful, evocative, poetic novel recreates the sometimes suffocating, and sometimes heartbreaking world of Muslim women in southern India. The Hour Past Midnight is translated into English by Lakshmi Holmstrom.
A postman turns up with an unexpected letter one rainy afternoon in Cherrapunji, a letter that will turn fourteen-year-old Saphira’s world upside down.
Dalinia’s life seems perfect, with a successful husband, beautiful children and a well-appointed home. But the arrival of a handsome competitor on the manicured greens of the Shillong golf course brings back a flood of unwanted memories of her troubled past.
Told in a simple, lyrical style, Bijoya Sawian’s collection of ten short stories is not only an enthralling read but, like her debut novel Shadow Men, transports the reader to a place little known to outsiders: Meghalaya.
Strains of love, loss and longing run through all these stories, whose endings are not mere shocks, but revelations. Both her books should be read for a better understanding of India’s Northeast – its communities, its landscape, and in particular, the lives of the women who live there.
“Love, loss and longing are the predominant emotions in these tales. With a touch of Blakesian magic, Sawian’s songs of innocence and experience are lyrical and pantheistic. [The] stories, like vintage wine, have a mature blend of wit and irony, sense and sensibility and the ability to stay with the reader long after the covers are closed.”—Sudipta Bhattacharjee, Telegraph
"All Mrinalini Singh wants, she has. A loving husband, a competent cook, the vague hope of a book deal one day. But when her old roommate Jahanara accuses her of being selfish, Mrinalini is forced to practise altruism on the nearest available target: her maid’s toddler. All this caring doesn’t come easy, though; and it hardly helps that her husband Siddhartha has quit his lucrative job and acquired parental ambitions. Or that Brajeshwar Jha, her upstairs tenant and literary rival, has not only published his book before Mrinalini, but also lampooned her and Siddhartha in it. Close to Home is a wry look at the small compromises, manipulations and sustained self-delusion of young men and women possessed of good fortune... and only looking for good lives.
Set in the heady years preceding independence, this is the story of young Binapani growing up in a small Assamese town. Headstrong, stubborn and high-spirited, Binapani is confronted with a world full of confusing questions: why are girls not allowed to study? Why is the nationalist hero, Bullet Kaka hidden away in her grandmother’s shed? Why does Mahendra Barua’s family suffer such humiliation and indignity? Why is the rich Haitha Sarai feted and fawned upon? Why is his daughter tied up and starved in a dark room? Why is the Christian boy, Ratan, an outcaste? Her young mind grapples with countless questions and through it all is the abiding relationship she shares with her old grandmother, Jashodha. Married off to the rich Chaliha whom she has always hated, the ebullient young Bina turns inwards, seeking an inner strength and calm and makes her home ‘an abode of peace’.
Arupa Kalita Patangia is one of Assam’s leading, award winning novelists. She has more than ten novels and short story collections to her credit including Mriganabhi (1987) and Millenniumar Sapon (2002). She teaches English at Tangla College, Assam.
Ranjita Biswas has translated a number of well-known Bengali and Assamese novels into English.
The Blue-necked God (Nilakantha Braja), published in 1976, is one of Indira Goswami's early novels and the first time that a writer highlighted the exploitation and poverty of widows, dumped in a 'sacred' city to eke out their days in prayer by uncaring, callous families under the guise of religious sanction and tradition. It was a book that raised many eyebrows when it was first published for this amazing narrative combined fact and fiction, autobiography and reflection in a fascinating mix as she tried to depict the confusion and the mental agony she herself experienced after the death of her husband through her character Saudamini. The physical, emotional, financial deprivation faced by the young widow has been woven into a perceptive text that drew on the author's own research and experiences as she roamed the streets of Vrindavan and exposed, for the first time, the uglier side of the city and its traditions.
"Indira Goswami is one of the pre-eminent literary figures in India and a woman of remarkable courage and conviction... She has also been an important voice in championing women's causes, and has done much to highlight the plight of widows. [She] is one of those rare figures whose achievements as a writer are closely paralleled by their accomplishments as a social and political activist." -- Amitav Ghosh
A lone hunter, Vilie, sets out to find the river of his dreams: to wrest from its sleeping waters a stone that will give him untold power. It is a dangerous quest, for not only must he overcome unquiet spirits, vengeful sorceresses and daemons of the forest, there are men – armed with guns – on his trail.
Easterine Kire’s novel transports the reader to the remote mountains of Nagaland, a place alive with natural wonder and supernatural enchantment. As Vilie treks through the forest on the trail of his dream, we are also swept along in this powerful narrative and walk alongside him in a world where the spirits are every bit as real as men and women, and where danger – or salvation – lies at every turn.
Kire’s powerful narrative invites us into the lives and hearts of the people of Nagaland: the rituals and beliefs, their reverence for the land, their close-knit communities – the rhythms of a life lived in harmony with their natural surroundings. It is against this spellbinding backdrop that Kire tells the story of a solitary man driven by the mysterious pull of a dream, who must overcome weretigers and malignant widow-spirits in the search for his heart’s desire.
“...reminiscent of Marquez’s magic realism and Leslie Silko’s Native-American story-telling. At the end, though, this is a Naga story, unmistakably so, in its sense of place,
time, and oral traditions.”
Paulus Pimomo, Central Washington University, USA
The Story of Felanee is based on real life events. It is a story of courage, of survival, of ethnic conflict and violence that tears people and communities apart in the most brutal, savage way.
Set in Assam, which has seen two major agitations that have crippled the economy, this is a story that will shock the reader by its sheer passion, and its brutal honesty. The callousness and utter disregard for human life, the ugly play for power, for electoral gain, the sham and petty hypocrisies, the bloody horror of ethnic violence all lie exposed in this powerful novel written by one of Assam’s leading fiction writers.
The story revolves around the experiences of one woman: Felanee. Her name means ‘thrown away’—so called because as her mother lay dying in the burning riot-torn village, Felanee was thrown into a swamp and left to die. But against all odds, Felanee—and thousands like her—survived.
Like the reeds that grow in such profusion along the bank of Assam’s rivers, the rootless inhabitants of the refugee camps and makeshift shanties, whose stories form the core of Felanee, are swept along by the wind and thrown onto new hostile terrain but they cling on with tenacity to take root again and again.
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