Category Archives: short stories

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 32 of 2022. After the Sun by Jonas Eika. Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg

After the Sun by Jonas Eika

Title: After the Sun
Author: Jonas Eika
Translated from the Danish by Sherilyn Nicolette Hellberg
Publisher: Riverhead Books
ISBN: 978-0593329108
Genre: Short Stories
Source: Publisher
Rating: 2/5

I was so looking forward to reading this collection of short stories but when it came to it, it left me feeling bland and without colour or excitement.

After the Sun is a collection that is supposed to push boundaries but somehow it doesn’t end up doing that. I wouldn’t call leaving the reader unsettled as pushing boundaries.

There is another story “Alvin” which perhaps was the highlight of the book for me – surreal and a parody of sorts about commodity trading. “Me, Rory, and Aurora” was another one that worked for me about a homeless girl named Casey and her being in a three-way relationship with Rory and Aurora, exploring their lives lived in a run-down flat.

The rest of the stories just didn’t work for me. The writing sparkles in places, but leaves you wanting so much more that you don’t want it after a point. The translation was on point as always, but once again if the source material read so absurdly, then you really cannot say much about the translation.

After the Sun just did not work for me on so many levels – there was nothing to it, and it also did not make me go back and perhaps reconsider what I thought of it earlier.

Read 27 of 2022. Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung. Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur

Cursed Bunny by Bora Chung

Title: Cursed Bunny
Author: Bora Chung
Translated from the Korean by Anton Hur
Publisher: Honford Star
ISBN: 978-1916277182
Genre: Short Stories
Pages: 256
Source: Publisher
Rating: 5/5

The best part about this book is that you cannot place it under any genre, and yet just to simplify it, I put it under a basic genre, that of short stories. These short stories are not just any run-of-the-mill stories though. There is so much more than what meets the eye.

Horror, magic realism, supernatural, the weird, folklore blending with the contemporary storytelling, and then of course the literary that slow slips into the prose.

Bora Chung’s stories may be bizarre but they after all only reflect the society, we live in. From the loneliness of people that need droids, to the idea of parenthood and self and ultimately how the two interweave, to the exploitation of people in a capitalistic world, each story resonates on different levels.

Yes, the stories are grotesque. Yes, the element of horror in these stories is perhaps a little more, and yes, some narratives may seem similar than most – the bottom-line being, Chung’s stories also work, because of the exquisite translation by Anton Hur.

The stories could’ve fallen flat to their face in English if it weren’t for the translator, given the landscape in which they are set. Each story is heavily nuanced, and culturally unique to the place, and that to translate to English, so readers get it all, is the work of an expert, which Anton is. No word seems out of place, nothing jarring in a sentence, and the emotions remain the same. Where I had to feel horror, I did. Where I had to feel pity, I did.

Cursed Bunny is all about placing the overlooked and the ignored at the center of things. From monsters to androids to ghosts to sometimes what comes out of us as well is exaggerated and placed in contexts for all to see, in all its glory or not.

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.