Category Archives: Short Stories and Anthologies

Read 102 of 2022. The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun by Anil Menon

The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun

Title: The Inconceivable Idea of the Sun Author: Anil Menon
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789391028602
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 280
Source: Publisher
Rating: 4/5

Let me just begin by saying that my mind was completely blown by this collection of wondrous, fantastical, and most unique short stories I’ve read in a while. Anil Menon’s writing is all over the place (in a very good way), and you enjoy it from the very start.

I love how each story has a beating, alive, and full heart. Menon doesn’t overlook emotions in favour of craft or the story. Each story gets its due – some more than the others, but nonetheless the setting, the characters, and the way the prose moves between surrealism and reality of the situations is what makes the reader’s jaw drop and be in awe of the writing.

I absolutely loved the title story – of a couple in the process of reorganising their home library, realizes how that impacts their reality – a story so refreshing, odd, and yet hugely satisfying. There is so much going on in this collection of short stories – there are robots, there is a Ramayan retelling unlike anything I have read before, there is betrayal, there are ancient languages, there is so much technology yet sort of mixed with the old and the medieval, and extremely playful. There is philosophy, there is a lot of wit, and of course SFF shines when it has to.

Anil Menon’s writing hits you in the face – like something good – out of the blue – something that you cannot quite put your finger on and yet you cannot stop turning the pages. Overall, I just think everyone must read this book and enjoy it to its fullest. Approach it with an open mind and enjoy the ride!

Read 33 of 2022. Sin: Stories by Wajida Tabassum. Translated from the Urdu by Reema Abbasi

Sin by Wajida Tabassum

Title: Sin: Stories
Author: Wajida Tabassum
Translated from the Urdu by Reema Abbasi
Publisher: Hachette India
ISBN: 9789391028886
Genre: Short Stories, Women in Translation
Pages: 220
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

Wajida Tabassum wrote at a time about women and their lives, when it was practically unheard of. That too of Muslim women and their lives – hidden behind veils or traditions – the lives that no one knew about or did but didn’t speak of it – she chronicled all of it in her short stories that bridge the gap between ignorance and truth.

Tabassum came from a family that had seen immense amount of wealth but by the time she turned nine, it was all squandered and both her parents were dead. Her maternal grandmother took care of her and her siblings, selling her jewelry to provide for their education and daily living. They had to go through immense hardships that she then wrote about in a short narrative titled “Meri Kahaani” (My Story).

Wajida started writing short stories at an early age. She wrote about the world she knew and did it with humour, bite, and the desperation of women in it who want a way out but do not get that exit. The book is about the spaces they inhabit and how men are all-pervasive, extremely territorial and want more and more – Tabassum covers four aspects of “sin” – lust, pride, greed, and envy. There are 18 stories in all – dissecting, humanizing, dehumanizing, rarely empowering, and mostly placing the woman at the center of dilemmas, confusion, weakness, and sacrifices.

There are also times when female agency kicks in very strong. For instance, the first story Chhinaal (Fallen Venus) is about a courtesan Gauhar Jaan and her marriage to one of her patrons, how she is treated in the family, and what happens when she decides to take some matters in her hand. There is sadness and a lingering feeling of helplessness, yet you know that Gauhar did what she wanted to, on her terms. Or even Talaq, Talaq, Talaq (Separation) where Mehru takes matters in her own hand when Nawab Sarkar forces her husband to divorce her.

Tabassum’s women are creatures of circumstance and the time they lived in. Her stories are set in Hyderabad, right after the partition, and some before. The exact timeline is not known but you get an idea as you go along reading them. Her women are full of desire, longing, craving, and also ambition – mostly these do not see the light of the day, but when they do you want to cheer out loud as a reader.

In Lungi Kurta (The Exchange), a wife gives a befitting response to a husband’s infidelity and wayward ways. Zakat (The Alms of Death) exposes the hypocrisy of nawabs (as do the other stories in the book), and how Ujala a young girl manages to do that.

Wajida Tabassum’s stories are steeped in honesty. They reflect the times she witnessed – the dynamics between the women and men across class, caste, and what society expects of them. Reema Abbasi’s translation does not make you want more as a reader. It is perfect, bringing to fore the worlds, the language (without footnotes or glossary, which is a huge relief), the nuances of living in a world full of custom and rituals, and above all doing most justice to the original.

Wajida Tabassum is a treat for readers who love the short-story form and want to experiment with new writers, thereby expanding their horizon and clearing biases, page after page.

Read 23 of 2022. Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories from Dalit Writers. Edited by M.R. Renukumar. Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker.

Don't Want Caste. Edited by M.R. Renukumar

Title: Don’t Want Caste: Malayalam Stories from Dalit Writers
Edited by M.R. Renukumar
Translated from the Malayalam by Abhirami Girija Sriram and Ravi Shanker
Publisher: Navayana Books
ISBN: 978-8189059811
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 192
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

This collection of short stories hits hard and as it should. We need to with our privilege open our eyes and see the world around us for what it is. For the injustice, for the hate, for the discrimination, and for the fear that some people live with – the marginalized whose rights have been encroached on, and those whose lives are a constant struggle.

Don’t Want Caste, a collection of stories by Dalit writers is a mix of truth, some truth told through the lens of magical realism, and some told plain and simply.

These stories have been selected from seven decades of Dalit writing in Malayalam –       from the 1950s to the 2010s. There are 23 stories in all, each very different and just the same – telling us about the atrocities of caste discrimination and what it does to functioning societies or how it is an integral part of it, unfortunately so.

The stories explore the meaning and consequences of what it is to be a Dalit – of what it is to belong and not belong – of how then the unreal is used to talk about the real. The real that is so traumatic that it needs the assistance of magic to speak of.

“The Downfall of a Demon” (1964) is one story that captivated me the most. It is simple, unique and yet says all that it wants to about the world we live in. “The World of Rabbits” (2006) is about a young Dalit boy who discovers a change of emotions among his parents towards rabbits and what happens thereof.

There are stories of men, women, and children running away from their caste – wanting to disown it and trying very hard to get away. There are stories of men, women, and children embracing who they are and what they are – and fighting throughout in their own manner to claim all of it.

“The Serpent Lover” is a story of two lovers Ganesan and Sarojam who make a tragic discovery about their past and have to work around it. There is the issue of shame, hope, and also the angle of memory that doesn’t let go because how you are constantly made to show your place in the society.

Please read it. The translations of Abhirami and Ravi are succinct, on point, and let the stories speak for themselves. The writers – twenty-three of them have done a magnificent job of displaying every emotion on these pages. Don’t Want Caste is one of the books that I recommend to everyone in the country to understand the nuances of what is often thought doesn’t exist, but it does, and it is in your face most of the time. Please don’t choose to hide behind ignorance.

Read 19 of 2022. Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga. Translated from the French by Jordan Stump.

Igifu by Scholastique Mukasonga

Title: Igifu
Author: Scholastique Mukasonga Translated from the French by Jordan Stump
Publisher: Archipelago Books
ISBN: 978-1939810786
Genre: Short Stories, Translations, Women’s Writing
Pages: 160
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

I read this slim collection of most autobiographical short stories in one sitting. There was no way that I would take a break. I was left wondering though about how a writer integrates national horror in their literature. How does an act of terror shape literature and at the end how does it impact the reader?

Scholastique’s collection of short stories, Igifu, is centred on the 1994 genocide in Rwanda. Tutsi Rwandans were massacred by their Hutu compatriots. 37 members of Mukasonga’s family were killed. She had to leave Rwanda earlier, and eventually settle in France. This atrocity has found its way in all of her works – fiction and nonfiction.

This collection of short stories translated from the French by Jordan Stump is no different. Stump’s translation is deep-rooted in understanding the Tutsi people, their loss, their trauma, and how to appropriately put it on paper. Each time you read these stories, you read it not with fascination or exoticism but with empathy and compassion.

These five heartrending stories not only capture the ordeal of the Tutsis, but also speaks of roots and family and what it means to live with a grief so immense that you cannot even name it.

Igifu means hunger and each story somehow depicts that. The hunger not only for food but also for the homeland from which you had to escape. The title story is that of a child who becomes so weak from hunger that she passes out, and what the parents do next to keep her alive.

“The Glorious Cow” is about Tutsis and their relationship with their animals. It is about a way of life that is no longer present, and Mukasonga tells these stories the way it is – the only way you can by talking about life and what happened through fictional undertones.

“Grief” is a story that is most autobiographical in nature. It is about a young Rwandan woman living in France, who receives a letter containing a long list of relatives who died in the genocide. She cannot cry till she does at the funeral of a stranger.

Mukasonga’s writing leaves you with a sense of loss that is universal but somehow the one that cannot be comprehended by all. We can only imagine, sometimes we cannot even do that. As a reader, all I could do was understand, learn, unlearn, and be left with a sense of empathy and appreciation as to how Mukasonga writes through it all – with great tenacity and resilience.

Read 12 of 2022. Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories by Gwen E. Kirby

Shit Cassandra Saw by Gwen E. Kirby

Title: Shit Cassandra Saw: Stories
Author: Gwen E. Kirby
Publisher: Penguin Books USA
ISBN: 978-0143136620
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 288
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

This collection of short stories by Gwen E. Kirby places women at the front – in all their glory and agency. It strips the old -age telling of stories from the perspective of men and looks at women telling their own stories, with their voices getting centerstage.

Shit Cassandra Saw speaks of women that keep getting a raw deal. It rewrites womanhood – with a lens of bravery, a sense of flaws that exist, contradictory sometimes, and mostly with empathy and wit.

The Greek goddess Cassandra received the gift of prophesy from Apollo only to find no one believed her visions of the future, only because she refused to have sex with him. Helen of Troy was a temptress, a seducer, because of which the war happened. Women who were accused and hanged because of witchcraft in the 14th century. Women who cross-dressed so they could travel, and so much more.

The stories in this collection focus on women – those from history and those from today’s time and age – bringing out feminism and the weird, along with humour in right doses.

These 21 stories take the reader to different worlds in which women not only have agency, but also reveal the mundane and the predictability of living in a so-called man’s world. Gwen E. Kirby breaks all the stereotypes and categorizations, only perhaps to create some new ones through her stellar storytelling.

The writing is precise, sharp, morbid at times, but mostly wildly unique. Whether it is about protagonists who refuse to be secondary characters or about women who have learned how to tell their stories, Kirby whips up women at their breaking points – all ready to rebel and reclaim spaces. Shit Cassandra Saw is a fine debut collection of short stories that is constantly not only pushing boundaries but also successfully breaking them.