Last week, I finally received my copy of the book from the SAARC cultural center, nearly seven months after its launch during the Colombo international book fair in September 2013.
The SAARC Cultural Centre initiated the publication of an annual anthology in 2011. The second volume (2012) is a compilation of 44 short stories from the eight South Asian countries. I consider it an honour to have had one of my published short stories from Waves included in this anthology and thank the editor for the Sri Lankan collection, Piyal Kariyawasam, for having included my work.
Over the week, I have been enjoying my journey through the South Asian mosaic woven by the story-tellers and relishing the glimpses into life thus offered.
The collection starts with four short stories from Afghanistan, which I found very interesting. The first three stories were on the themes of transgender, honour killing and infertility. I particularly liked the fourth story – a satirical piece by Rashid Khattak “The End” – about a labourer from a remote village getting caught up unwittingly in matters beyond his scope. All four translations were well done and I did not feel that I lost out on not reading the stories in its original language.
The Bangladeshi short stories were translations of works by famous Bangladeshi short story writers born prior to the country’s independence. Three of the four stories therefore have a focus on the language policy and the riots and turbulence that ensued to ensure that Bengali was made the official language. While appreciating an awareness created on a historical moment of Bangladesh through the stories, my preference was for the short story that focused on a much simpler theme of a man contemplating a second marriage – “Turban” by Syed Walliullah. I did feel that some of the nuances or flow of the stories might have been lost in the process of translation from lyrical Bengali to practical English.
Bhutan, the country that I have long wanted to visit and would have relocated to this year if one of my recent job interviews had been successful, also had four short stories. Unlike the previous stories, the Bhutanese selection was written in English language. The first was a folk story and the second a story about the fine line between Buddhist values and animist practices particularly in relation to killing of animals for food. I liked the remaining two stories better. “Potatoes” and “The Call of Nature”, both written by Ngawang Phuntsho, were humorous vignettes with a touch of the absurd.
I was actually looking forward to the Indian section the most as some of my favourite writers are from India. However, I was somewhat disappointed. Perhaps the translation into the English language did not do justice to the stories. Among the eight short stories, I preferred Oriya writer Paramita Satpathy’s “The Wild Jasmine,” a touching story about a tribal woman. The atmosphere of the village has been nicely captured by the writer and I could feel the dryness and heat of the place while reading the story. Two other stories that I quite liked and which I felt could have been improved with some editing were Assamese writer Anuradha Sarma Pujari’s “No Man’s Land” and Tamil writer Dilip Kumar’s “The Clerk.”
The four stories from Maldives were by Ibrahim Waheed Ogaru and written originally in the English language. Three of the stories captured moments of a meeting – with a supernatural creature, a brief interaction between a tourist and a local waitress, an elderly poet finding a young protege to pass on the traditional poetry skills. The story I liked better was “I love a rainy night,” a lyrical piece of writing that becomes poignant with the last two sentences.
I enjoyed the stories of Nepal and found them to be an interesting surprise similar to that of the collection from Afghanistan. While I did feel the flow of the stories to be abrupt at times which I think was due to the translation, the essence of the stories came out clearly. The four stories by prominent Nepali writers explored the pysche of the protagonists in relation to society and were thought provoking. Bhawani Bhikshu’s “Maiya Saheb” explored the perception of the two central characters on love. Bishweshwar Prasad Koirala’s “Pabitra” tugged at the heart as the story unfolded from the perspective of Pabitra, a cook with some physical afflictions, who forms a deep emotional attachment to her employer. Vijaya Malla’s “The Pigeon and the Prisoner” explores the mental state of a prisoner and Parijat’s “The Son that I Didn’t Give Birth To” was a disturbing trip through the mind of a woman who had distanced herself from the rest of the society.
Pakistan shared 11 stories in this anthology. While all the stories were quite interesting, the stories that captured my attention were five stories that were translated well. M.Hameed Shahid’s “How Grief Perishes” is a story about a man overwhelmed with the care of his bedridden mother. Musarrat Kalanchvi’s “The Poison of Loneliness” is about baby Jugnoo’s pain and brief life. The other three stories that touched me centered around the theme of abuse of women and the girl child and were disturbing – Nur-ul-Huda Shah’s “The Bane of Life,” Parveen Malik’s “The Magic Flower” and Zaitoon Bano’s “Dilshada.”
The anthology ends with five stories from Sri Lanka. I liked Piyal Kariyawasam’s “Seed Paddy,” a story of a family struggling to survive as seen through the eyes of the child. The scenes of the remote village in the jungle was nicely captured by the writer. I also liked Dayasena Gunasinghe’s “The Captain’s Sons.”
The anthology is currently available at Vijitha Yapa online bookstore. I hope it will soon be available on Amazon as I noticed that the 2011 anthology is already available there.