Book Review: Contemporary Short Stories of the SAARC Region 2012

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.

SAARC bookThe 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.

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Not a book review: Waves

On the eve of the Sri Lankan New Year, I decided to schedule the kindle free book promotion of my short story collection – Waves, for these two days.

Waves

Waves is a short story collection of my early writing – most of the stories were written during my undergraduate years at Peradeniya university. It is a collection of 10 short stories exploring moments in peoples’ lives that causes different responses akin to the movement of waves.

Two of the short stories from this collection has been included in two anthologies: ‘The Gaze’ in Contemporary Short Stories of the SAARC region 2012 and The Cuckoo’ in Kaleidoscope 2: An anthology of Sri Lankan English Literature (2010).

As I was considering reprinting The First Step in 2010,  I decided to share the short story collection as well and self-published it. Again as in the case of  ‘The First Step,’ based on the feedback I received from readers of the first 100 copies of the books, I decided to make the collection available on Amazon for anyone who might be interested in reading the slim collection of 10 stories.

Having self-published the books, I did not consider marketing it or promoting it as I felt it was sufficient to make the books available online. However, I came across a blog that was primarily a book review site that I happened to like. On an impulse, I contacted the Indian blogger and Samarpita agreed to read and post her review on her site. After reading the collection, she connected me with some of her fellow book reviewing bloggers in India. Their reviews are available on Words’ Worth by Samarpita and Leo’s A Bookworm’s Musing.

Apart from that instance of soliciting a book review, I have not promoted the book. As Amazon does offer the option of holding a free book promotion, I decided I might as well make use of the promotion tool.

So, Waves will be freely available for downloading to your Kindle reader or your computer on April 13th and 14th (as amazon.com runs on Seattle Washington time, the promotion will be activated from Sri Lankan time 1p.m. on April 13th to 1p.m. on April 15th). I invite you to download the book during this promotion period and if you do, please do post a review on either Amazon or Goodreads.

Book details:

  • Title: Waves
  • Author: Ahila Thillainathan
  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Self-published
  • ISBN-13: 978-9558535097
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc (July 19, 2012)

Book Review: Kalki

Note: I posted this review originally on my other blog on 2008/01/09. I find this book provides a good social commentary on Tamil society in India in the early twentieth century and so, under the inspirational theme of this blog, decided to transfer the post here.

Kalki: Selected Stories

KalkiWhen I saw that there was a translated book of Kalki’s short stories on the Penguin website, I had immediately decided to get hold of that book.

Kalki, for those who don’t know him, is a Tamil writer who took the world of Tamil writing by storm in the 20th century. I remember that my mother said she had read his works avidly during her school days. I had not read any of his writing and one look at the humungous novel ‘Ponniyin Selvan’ threw me off reading it in Tamil. So, it was a pleasure to be finally introduced to the work of a prominent writer in Tamil literature.

This particular book, is a selection of his short stories from the 129 short stories that he had written in his lifetime (1899 – 1954) and translated by his granddaughter Gowri Ramnarayan. Gowri Ramnarayan states in her introduction to the book that she had started translating some of the short stories into English so that her children could experience the writing of their great-grandfather and as they had found reading his Tamil difficult. She also gives a nice sketch of her grandfather’s life and how the pseudonym ‘Kalki’ (கல்கி) was derived from the first two Tamil letters of his writing mentor Kalyanasundara Mudaliyar (கல்) and the first letter from his own name Krishnamoorthy (கி).

A thinker and writer living in the immediate pre and post independence era of India would have been greatly influenced by the prevalent reformist thoughts of the time and most of the selected short stories seem to have a social message pertaining to the social evils of that period: from the need for education for all women (The letter), to the abolishment of the caste system (The poison cure), in support of the freedom struggle movement (The big swelling seaMadatevan’s spring) and against suicide attempts by young lovers (The ruined fort).

Throughout his stories, there seems to run a light playfulness. Even in the above short stories written with a social message in mind. In The Letter, Annapurani Devi, the founder principal of Devi Vidyalaya – a school for women, confides in her younger colleague the reason behind why she embarked on her path of studies and felt that all women had to learn to read first. The reason, that she had been unable to read a missive given her by her lover and as a result losing out on the relationship, seems to be so pathetic and trivial that I felt the writer was at once laughing and yet sad about the state of affairs.

He also embarks on light satire in the Governor’s visit, Rural fantasy and The tiger king.

I guess the reader of today would find the messages in the story obsolete and simplistic but for the reader who would be interested in learning more about the prevalent social issues of Tamil Nadu and Tamil writing during that period would be rewarded.

Book details:

  • Title – Kalki: Selected stories
  • Translator: Gowri Ramnarayan
  • Published by Penguin
  • Published 1999
  • ISBN 13: 9780140290431

Book Review: Delhi

An absorbing historical novel by Khushwant Singh on the history of the city from the Moghul invasions to 1984. The past and the present are linked nicely and gives the reader a good view of both at the same time. I couldn’t put down the book once I had started it and read through the day till I came to the end.

I loved the way that the guide would take some of his clients to a site and tell the summary of the story behind the ruins and the next chapter would take the reader back to the time when the ruins were flourishing living areas. I also loved the thoughtfulness that the writer had put into introducing characters at different levels of society, from kings and queens to labourers and sweepers, at each point when the past is brought to life, thus bringing the reader awareness of how the society as a whole existed, rather than focus on only one section of the society.

It was interesting to read the character of Aurangzeb treated favourably in the novel, while Shah Jahan and his eldest son Dara’s character not so favourably treated, in contrast to popular fictive takes on idolizing Shah Jahan and vindicating the son who became the successor to the throne. The writer choses to do this by showing that ruling families will always be fraught with survival of the fittest which they do so by eliminating potential competition, their own siblings. In light of this, he suggests that when Aurangzeb came to the throne by killing his two brothers and imprisoning the third, Murad, for life and confining his old father to the confines of the Agra fort, along with his eldest and youngest sisters for the remainder of their life, he was doing what his line of ancestors had been doing so, including his own father, and thus he could not be looked upon as a tyrant king. He also further goes to highlight the fact that he was the first and only ruler who choose not to live the royal life the royal way but lived meagerly on his own earnings from the sale of the religious books he copied in his own hand, while treating state wealth as being in his custody for the state and not for his own pleasures. Neither did he maintain a harem as was the trend of the Mughals. It was an interesting perspective of a character who has been blackened in history and provides an angle which seeks to show the personal traits which governed his actions. Even the demolition of places of worship other than those of Islam was explained by his devout Islamic upbringing and his concern that his father and brothers were deviating from a life that should be inherent for a good Muslim and he felt that as a ruler he had to show all his subjects that Islam was the only religion of God.

What is special about the book is that while the writer has clear feelings about the characters he brings to life through his writing, he justifies the actions of each in their lives by recreating their upbringing, their personal paths in lives which brings them to a particular place and action in time, thereby inviting the reader to not judge but simply observe the historical passing moments.

The book also manages to link the actions in the past with results in the future. The killing of a Sikh Guru in the past resulting in a movement centuries down the line, vowing revenge and the actions of later day leader of India, Indira Gandhi to quench this rising with violence leading to her own assassination, which in turn results in the state supported killings of Sikhs living in Delhi.

The story also highlighted the toils and labours and petty vanity that human beings put into their brief existence on this earth and that it is meaningless in the passing of time and yet, history continues repeating its horrors and power struggles and power hungry individuals bring up some historical incident to justify their actions to the rest of the world, while it is pure greed or sadly mistaken logic that drives them on to destruction. Yet, life goes on and these human made destruction a drop in the continuing violence in the existence of human beings. Will the earth continue tolerating these violations on her?

A word of caution though – some might find parts of the novel squeamish, mostly the parts which involve the guide who tends to focus on his sexual experiences. Thus, ‘erotic’ is one of the labels that some reviewers and the publisher have used to describe the novel. I see a story very well handled by the writer and the language flawlessly flowing to create visions of the past.

I now look forward to getting hold of Khushwant’s Singh more famous book ‘A train to Pakistan.’

Book details:

  • Title – Delhi: A Novel
  • Author – Khushwant Singh
  • Published by Penguin Books India
  • Published 14 Oct 2000
  • ISBN13 9780140126198
  • Category – Fiction, Literary Fiction

Note: I have transferred this review from my first blog, View from my Desk, when I deleted that blog so that I could focus on Perspectives Quilt.