& occasionally about other things, too...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Reading short stories

Spoiler alert: Skip the blog if you haven’t read and intend to read Her Mother’s Ashes 3

There’s a haunting moment in Guru Dutt’s Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulaam (1962) when architect Bhoonath’s (Guru Dutt)  team of workers remove debris of a colonial haveli to find a skeleton among the ruins. Bhoonath realises the skeleton is the remains of Choti Bahu (Meena Kumari) who had disappeared when Bhoonath was a servant in the haveli. It dawns upon Bhoonath that Choti Bahu was murdered.

Minara, a young woman in the war-torn East Pakistan, suffers the same fate in Maria Chaudhuri’s story Necklace in Her Mother’s Ashes 3 (HMA-3). Minara is murdered and buried by her ultraconservative parents who can’t fathom leave alone condone or accept her romance with Rahmat.

July is summer in Toronto and it gets as hot and humid here as in Mumbai. I generally hate this climate although everyone who’s been here more than three or four years just can’t get enough of this season. For me, July is a month of rest, recuperation, reflection and renewal.

This month, I did something I haven’t done in a while – read. I enjoyed reading several short stories from different collections.

A few that I enjoyed more than the others are Sujata Bhat's Indian Cooking (RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers), Allyson Blood's Saturday (TOK 5), Maria Chaudhuri's Necklace (HMA-3).

Bhat's story poignantly captures the transformation of a family where the mother gets scarred on her face while cooking. The seemingly mature acceptance of the tragedy by the family hides the discomfiture they experience. In reality, the mother is unable to overcome the physical and mental trauma of the burns, manifested in her edgy jokes. 

Blood's Saturday has exasperated Noura exclaim, “People must change with the times. We’ve been her ten years already.” She shrugs. “Why does he act like none of this exists?” She sweeps her arm around the dark apartment. “We are here. It’s like living with a ghost sometimes.”

Chaudhuri’s Necklace set in pre-independence Bangladesh (East Pakistan) has an extraordinary scene when Minara, the daughter, who has been betrothed to marry Kalim, confesses to her mother that she doesn’t know him enough to know whether she loves him. Her mother responds: “How dare you? How dare you speak of love? Don’t you know it is an unforgivable sin to even think about falling in love with a man before you marry?”

I’ve written about these because I liked them more than the others. These collections have many other memorable short stories (including by acknowledged masters such as Bapsi Sidhwa and MG Vassanji). 

It takes me longer to read a collection of short stories from cover to cover than it does for me to read a novel. My preferred way of reading a short story collection is to read one story, then put it aside and pick it up later to read another. 

Buy these two collections and read them; you’ll enjoy them.

Get your free copy of the booklet that has the stories by RBC Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers here.

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