In Other Words- New Writing by Indian Women, Edited by Urvashi Butalia and Ritu Menon, Kali for Women.
First published in 1992, Second impression-1995, New Delhi
The knowledge that this anthology was first published over a decade ago, calls for a significant change in the way I should perceive it. (The after effect- wanting to take a pen, a nice smelling book and put down in ink, the review.) It would do great for us, if we observe what revolutionary progress the genre of short fiction writing by women has undergone over time; taking this one as the relative foundation for the present. The collection would definitely not fall under the bracket of “novel writing”. Nor can it be considered the centrifuge of some intriguing story telling. However, it can definitely be construed as the best initiative taken, the perfect start to inspire, motivate and initiate women to look into their seemingly dull worlds with refreshing new mindsets and paint them to their choice of colour.
Short fiction is a personalised way of story telling. Hence the variety produced differs notably. It looks like the editors have, consciously made this one a compilation of versatile writings. Women writing about women has been a sign calling for empowerment, a plea to the rigid society to look at things in the same background, with a different vision, from the point of the “other”. What touched me most were these stories- “Sara” by Manorama Mathai, “Mallika Farida” by Shalini Saran, “The Smothering” by Ritu Bhatia and “Rites of Passage” by Bulbul Sharma. They possessed a certain substance, a specific criticism of unquestioned faiths, and a keen observation of the blind rituals of society. The monotony of Shashi’s life in “The Smothering” is portrayed with such realism that it feels like one might easily drift into that presence of gloom, the thoughts of which are often instantly blocked to sustain the meaning of living. Her insecurities, her building adjustment, compromise and acceptance of the lonely life abroad with a foreign husband is perhaps the story of many. The child’s naive view of being a ‘manglik’ in “Rites of Passage” and the subsequent treatment that follows this identity is the standard of an impressive narrative- it speaks without elaborate telling. Many of the subtle criticisms made, of culture and people will go unnoticed, unless you look for them. Hence, look for the cryptic poignancy.
Most others are endearing tales of companionship, love and respect. Highly individuate and serving as wonderful reminiscences, they capture the instinctive compassion and empathy that are considered essence of a woman’s nature. This beauty reflects in the writing, and the first person account adds to the charm. You can associate these with your own experiences in the past, the utopia, the small disappointments, the simplicity of emotions and life. It’d be fair to say that it is this kind of writing that seems to have vanished in the last many years; and you can’t blame me for wanting to write down in ink, the review, as I had mentioned! “Thanks, anyway” by Achala Bansal, “Portrait of a Childhood” by Shama Futehally and “The Remains of the Feast” by Githa Hariharan have explored the personal ties and human connection that make periods of life near absolute happiness. Sure, there is an attraction and intelligence in cynicism but I’d say, there is something beyond that too. These stories make up for that connection, the world view, we have almost lost.
The review of Body Maps (A recent collection of short stories by South Asian women), will highlight the difference or progress made in this genre.