Short Story of the Month: Dilli Ki Sair by Rashid Jahan

Welcome to the fourth Short Story of the Month!

This is quite a late post! But, just in time to celebrate international women’s day. Me being my skeptical self am a little wary of celebrating such days where celebrating women is reduced to having ridiculous sales or discounts rather than having any constructive discussions on women empowerment or equality.

Leaving that aside, this short story of the month is all about smashing the male gaze. This month let us read, Rashid Jahan’s Dilli Ki Sair or A Trip to Delhi. It was written originally in Urdu around 1932.

What is the story about?

Dilli Ki Sair was published in the anthology, Angaarey. The story is about Malka Begum who had taken an adventurous trip from Faridabad to Delhi. In the story, she is recounting this adventure to her female friends.

Analysis

Today, travelling from Faridabad to Delhi is a daily routine for lakhs of people, including women. But back then when the story was penned it was in all probably a rarity for a woman to travel. In the story, she does not travel alone. She had traveled to Delhi with her husband but was left alone with the luggage at the large Delhi Railway Station while her husband went to pay a visit to the station master. It is then that Malka Begum talks about what she has seen. She talks about how the men react to her, the woman sitting alone on the station. This is painfully real even today. A woman sitting alone on train stations will be seen suspiciously and she will be eyed by countless men.

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The Top 5: Nigerian Women Writers

We all know of Chimamanda Adichie. Many may have read her works, reveled in the feminism of her works and her depiction of Nigeria and its struggles, which are especially beautifully bought out in her two novels, Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.

But Nigeria is also teeming with many other female writers writing in English. While Adichie’s writing is breathtaking, her works often overshadow the other writers.

So this International Women’s Day, The Book Cafe, brings to the limelight five female Nigerian authors that one must read:

1. Buchi Emecheta:

Chinua Achebe seems to embody African literature. English literature syllabus in universities that teach world literature or post colonial literature, undoubtedly include Things Fall Apart by Achebe.

But Buchi Emecheta is not as well known. She was born in Lagos but immigrated to London with her husband. Her works are prolific and portray the sexism of institutions such as marriage and motherhood as well as speak about her own experiences as an immigrant. If you loved Americanah by Adichie, you should give her books her read too! You can borrow her books at the Internet Archive.

2. Flora Nwapa:

Flora Nwapa is another pioneer of Nigerian writing. Her works also lay bare the inherent discrimination within Igbo society. She combines folktales and stories to present modern day narratives of female empowerment. Through her books, the reader gets to see a women’s perspective of Igbo culture which is vastly different from Achebe’a portrayal of  the same culture as it shows a male perspective. You can borrow one of her novels, Women Are Different at the Internet Archive.
Google commemorated her 86th birthday in 2017 as well! 

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The Reading Spree: Hindi Writing

So this year I had set an ambitious goal of reading 50 books on Goodreads for the 2019 Reading Challenge.

Today on 31st December, I finished reading 51 books! YAY! Check out my year in books here at Goodreads.

In 2020, I think I will limit my reading to half of the 2019 ambitious goal: to read 25 books in 2020 because I think 2020 will not be as relaxed as 2019!

By the time December came, I was sure to complete my challenge and so I decided to read a few Hindi novels I have at home. I am not a fast reader of Hindi writing having lost touch with reading in Hindi after college. So I thought December would be a great time to read in Hindi as I can take it slow and steady.

Consequently, I read only 3 books this month but they were all amazing! I had wanted to read one more book, a poetry collection by Dushyant Kumar titled, Saaye Mein Dhoop, but I did not make time for that though I have read it before.

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I had also planned to read Anukriti Upadhay’s short story, Cherry Blossom but was not able to do that either. It is available online as part of one of the issues of The Bombay Literary Magazine and hoping to read it soon!

These are the three novels I read:

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The Hussani Alam House

The Hussain Alam House is about the changing life of Ayman’s (the narrator) house in the Hussaini Alam area of Hyderabad in Telangana.

Ayman speaks of each of the female relatives in her house who were dear to her and played a significant role in her life and her upbringing. These included her great grandmother, Qamar un Nissan or her Nanima; her grandmother, Meher un Nissan; her own mother, Naghma Soz; her sister, Mariam and her foster bua (which means a father’s sister, though in this case it was her grandfather’s adopted foster sister), Khudsia or Khalajaan.

The Good

A chapter is devoted to each of these members. By outlining their importance or her bond with them, Ayman also throws light on the house and the Nawabi culture they followed and on the festivals they celebrated. This also gives a small peek into Hyderabad’s old city and its lanes, buildings and bazaars.

The chapters speak of declining culture and fortune (and the decline in one is related to the decline in the other), of cheerful evenings of storytelling in the courtyard, of a mournful series of deaths, of arguments, secrets and the family drama within. The novel recreates a bygone era.

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The Reading Spree: Indian Women Writing in English

November is done. Unseasonal rains are behind us. Hopefully some coolness and not smog will descend over the city.

As mentioned last month in my October Yellow Book Cover Month Reading Spree post, I had decided to read Indian Women Writers in English.

It was absolute fun to be vicariously traveling from one place to the other through these books, to exploring thoughts and mindsets of varying female protagonists as they face their everyday battles.

So here are the books that made it to my list:

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Pick It Up: The Tiger’s Wife

Pick It Up is a monthly series of book recommendations to help you with what to read next!

This month The Book Cafe recommends The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht.

Although Tea Obreht sets The Tiger’s Wife in a fictional place, it is reminiscent of former Yugoslavia. She weaves in magic realism, folklore with the everyday human task of survival.

The protagonist, Natalia and her childhood friend, Zora are headed to execute a good will mission to inoculate children at the Brejevina Orphanage.

On the way there, she receives a pager from her grandmother. On calling her, Natalia finds out that her grandpa had died in a clinic in a town called Zdrevkov.

While she cannot cancel her goodwill mission, she cannot help wonder what her grandpa was doing far away from home in a remote town. She begins to dwell on the past, recollecting her grandpa’s stories about the tiger’s wife and the deathless man.

The narrative then winds its way around two timelines: one where her grandfather is growing up in his home village of Galina and speaks of his encounters with a strange female who is rumoured to be the tiger’s wife and his stranger encounters with the deathless man; the other in the present where Natalia is straddling between her past and her present while inoculating children and also trying to convince the labourers in the farms to send their sick children to the hospital.

The novel explores pasts within pasts and explores changing boundaries and nations, notions of folklore and how old wives tales develop among communities.

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The Artist of Disappearance

The Artist of Disappearance by Anita Desai thrives on the motif of disappearance. The epigraph (by Jorge Luis Borges) of the book,

“One thing alone does not exist – oblivion,”

similarly brings in an oft debated idea of what stays on eternally and what disappears from this world. I would think, contrary to what Borge points out, oblivion is the ONE thing that is absolutely constant. A person cannot protect or fight against oblivion. It is inevitable.

Yet the three short stories of The Artist of Disappearance, question whether oblivion is in fact inevitable and if it is possible to fight it.

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The first story, The Museum of Final Journeys, is about a Civil Servant Officer, who recently finished his training and is now traveling to a remote place: his first posting. Soon the banality of his office and work overtakes his life and is only broken when an old faithful caretaker of the erstwhile Mukherjee estate nearby requests the officer to take over a now crumbling museum that is replete with bric-a-brac collected from all over the world. The caretaker even takes the officer to the equally dilapidated estate and shows him the various rooms filled with these curious objects – carpets and rugs from across the world, stuffed birds and animals, miniature paintings from bygone Indian empires, fans and kimonos, myriad masks, weapons of war and much more.

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Blurb Appreciation Reviews: When the Doves Disappeared

The Blurb Appreciation Reviews presents its fifth review!

When the Doves Disappeared written originally in Finnish by Sofi Oksanen. The novel is set in Estonia during WWII and later on when it became part of the Soviet Union.

This was my first novel I read that was set in Estonia. I read it as part of the Women in Translation month in August. Take a look at the other books that I read in that month!

The novel is translated into English by Lola M. Rogers.

The Blurb:

As the blurb points out, When the Doves Disappeared takes place through two timelines. This parallel style is quite effective in making the reader think and figure out the pieces of what is happening or has happened to the story’s main characters, Edgar and Roland.

The novel explores a different, lesser known side of history namely Estonia’s struggle in World War 2 especially against the Nazi rule and its eventual capture by Soviet forces. The Soviet side had initially come to Estonia as saviours but later they also turned into captors of all Estonians, denying them freedom.

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Swarnlata

Translated from Assamese by Udayon Misra, Swarnlata is a historical fiction about three girls growing up in Nagaon in Assam during the 1800s’ in the Pre-Independence era. It is written by Tilottoma Misra.

The eponymous character is the daughter of Nagaon’s Assistant Commissioner, Gunabhiram Barua, who has accepted the Brahmo faith and married a widow, Bishnupriya, which at that time was a revolutionary and scandalous step to take.

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Lakhi is widowed at a very tender age, even before her marriage takes place. With Gunabhiram and her father’s support, she decides to continue with her education, which she had started with Swarnalata and her private tutor.

Tora’s mother, Golapi, converted to Christianity when the Baptist Missionary, Miles Bronson, provided her with a job at the mission school at Nagaon as a chowkidarni after her husband’s death. She saw faith in this religion and Tora followed her mother’s footsteps by studying in that school and eventually becoming a teacher there as well. However, Tora does suffer from self doubt about the faith’s complicity with the British rule and its ever increasing cruelty. This facet of Tora’s personality brings out a significant idea of how and why people converted and even if natives did become Christians, they were still considered savage subjects.

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A Rag Doll after my Heart

A Rag Doll after my Heart, is written by Anuradha Vaidya and translated into English from the original Marathi by Shruti Nargundkar.

The story is told in verses and hence the description as a ‘poetic novel.’ It is a straightforward story of a mother’s relationship with her daughter, who is fashioned out of rag clothes, since her mother was not bestowed with a child like the others. The nosy Indian society of course maliciously points fingers at this anomaly of a daughter, even accusing the mother of trying to act like God by creating a daughter/doll from rags. Only God can create, so why have you as well?

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With this Frankensteinesque beginning, also begins their odd journey embedded within a larger metaphor of life as a game, with its set rules, that doles out the fates/destinies to all the people. The writer has used this overarching metaphor and within it several others to refer to their bond or the daughter’s journey such as the most important one that of the doll and daughter, or a bird or a fish or even horticultural metaphors. These metaphors within metaphors beautifully encapsulates the emotions of mother and daughter but the larger metaphor is a tad bit overused and can wear out the reader.

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Guest Post: The Women’s Courtyard – A Complex and Thought-Provoking Look at Feminity and Suffocating Traditions

Guest Post by Arun Kumar

Arun Kumar is a Software professional with an unbridled passion for the world of cinema and books. He believes in an enriching film culture – from watching great cinema to engaging with its connoisseurs. Currently, he blogs at Passion for Movies and Passion for Books.


!!!!SPOILER ALERT!!!!!!

These exalted humans are really something, she thought, when they don’t believe in God they even consider the very word ‘God’ to be false, but when they do come around to believing, they begin to see divinity even in the threshold beneath the feet of saints.”

Urdu novelist Khadija Mastur’s The Women’s Courtyard (originally published in 1962 under the title ‘Aangan’ and succinctly translated to English by Daisy Rockwell in 2018) is set in the backdrop of the final stages of the Indian Independence movement. But this isn’t a narrative that offers a familiar retelling of the political uprisings to break free from the British Raj or provides an account of the communally charged politics that lead to the trauma of Partition. That also doesn’t mean Khadija’s poignant literary creation is apolitical. The novel rather speaks of how a society that demands freedom from its colonizers is firmly bound to the rigid codes of class hierarchy and patriarchy.

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The Women’s Courtyard, as its title suggests, revolves around ordinary Muslim women, confined to their house’s inner courtyard. They are largely cut off from the outside world and deeply embroiled in the narrow-minded cultural practices. Aliya, the young protagonist of the novel, dreams of breaking away from the chains of domesticity. She identifies the traditional romantic legends as the means to dis-empower women. Her skepticism about love is aroused after the suicides of her elder sister Tehmina and her best friend, Kusum, whose lives are overturned by the traditional narrative of romantic bliss. Aliya’s father and uncle are swept up under the ideological storm and the politics of freedom struggle so that they only exhibit aloofness when it comes to dealing with their family’s economic ruin.

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The Reading Spree: September

30th September is International Translation Day! It was declared by the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in 2017 to foster peace and greater understanding among nations.

It is therefore a great way to end the National Translation Month (also September!) on this day and take a look at the books that were read as part of this month.

Since August was Women in Translation Month, I simply continued that in this month as well! It is always great to read more women writers, don’t you think so?

Here’s the list:

  1. First up was Shanghai Baby which was written by Wei Hui and translated by Bruce Humes from Chinese. The the novel takes you through Coco’s story, living in Shanghai and trying to write a novel while living with her boyfriend, Tian Tian. Read my full review here.
  2. Second came A Rag Doll after My Heart. Translated from Marathi by Shruti Nargundkar and written by Anuradha Vaidya, this ‘poetic novel’ is a lovely, though a bit dated and patriarchal, look at a mother and daughter’s bond by evoking it through thought provoking metaphors. Read my full review here.

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Quick Reviews: Shanghai Baby

Shanghai Baby by the Chinese writer, Wei Hui, has been translated into English by Bruce Humes. The novel is set in the turn of the 21st century in Shanghai, China.

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What is the book about?

Shanghai Baby unravels a story about Coco, living in Shanghai, who wants to be a writer and who eventually drops her waitress job, when she meets the artist Tian Tian, at the same cafe. After a little encouragement from him, she decides to pursue writing a novel full time. She had already published an erotic and daring collection of short stories titled, Shriek of the Butterfly, and was working at a magazine before. What prompted her to leave that job and become a waitress is not explored. What is explored, however, is her relationship with her city, with her parents, with Tian Tian, who is a drug addict and impotent; and her lover, Mark, a German expat, working there and the one who satisfies her sexual desires.

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Seeing Red

!!!! Spoilers Ahead!!!!

I had diligently followed the idea of Women in Translation Month in August and the last book in my list was the intensely terrifying Seeing Red by Chilean author, Lina Meruane.

(On a side note: Click here and see the other books that were part of my Women in Translation month)

Translated from Spanish Megan McDowell, Seeing Red, narrates the story of Lucina, a Chilean national, who moved to New York and is pursuing her PhD. One night at a party, something strange – yet something that she has been forewarned about – happens!

Her eyes haemmorage; blood gushes through her veins in her eyes leaving her vision clouded. She returns home with her partner, Ignacio, trying to make sense of this new reality. The months that follow show Lucina navigating through this new found blindness: they move to a new place and she tries to orient herself there, she goes back to Chile for a vacation where her relatives provide her with unsolicited advice about her impending eye operation. Even her parents who are themselves doctors, are stunned by Lucina’s illness.

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Musically Yours: Music in Solitude

Aranya is chaotic.

Ishan systematic.

Ishan is a family person.

Aranya questions the idea of family.

Ishan is spiritual.

Aranya a feminist.

Now I know what you are thinking: that this is just going to be some modern run-of-the-mill opposites attract love story.

Fortunately not!

Because Music in Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia, is not a love story, but rather a loving tale of two elderly individuals, Ishan and Aranya, who are in the autumn of their lives and yes you guessed it, are complete opposites. Yet it is their age and the life that that brings along in it’s wake, which helps them come together. Not to mention that they stay in the same building in Delhi!

Originally titled as Samay Sargam, the novel stitches together episodes from the two protagonists’ lives. Especially the time spent together discussing myriad topics over tea, lunches or dinners!

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The Reading Spree: Women in Translation Month 2019

And so the Women in Translation (WiT) month has ended. And oh what a beautiful reading spree it was!

As part of WiT, I read female writers that have been translated into English and I managed to read a humble total of six books!

Here is the list:

1. First on my list was When the Dives Disappeared by Sofi Oksanen, translated from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers. This novel is a story of two Estonian cousins and their very different reactions to first Soviet occupation, then Nazi German and then back to Soviet occupation. Told using two parallel timelines, this was my first book by an Estonian writer that also shed a lot of light on a little known aspect of world history: Estonia’s role and struggle for independence during dark periods of occupation. Read the complete Blurb Appreciation Review of this novel here

2. Next was The M usic of Solitude by Krishna Sobti, translated from Hindi by Vasudha Dalmia. This is a touching tale of two elderly people living in Delhi, Ishan and Aranya, who are diametrically opposite people yet are brought together by proximity and burdensome and very palpable questions of old age and death. Read my complete review here.

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Quick Reviews: Gigi and the Cat

Gigi and The Cat by the acclaimed French writer, Colette, are two novellas published together by Vintage and I read them as part of Women in Translation Month.

Don’t know what that is?

Find out here!

What is this book about?

Gigi and The Cat consists of two stories: one is titled Gigi and the other, The Cat. Translated from French, both the stories adeptly capture the vivacity of the fin de siecle in Paris.

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Gigi is about the eponymous protagonist, ebullient girl of 15, dictated by her grandmamma who lavishly rains on her several rules of how to behave like a woman. Both her grandmamma and mother think that she is a simple, childish, naive girl who is unable to understand the intricacies of class and its politics. However, when an admirable suitor, Gaston Lachaille, confesses his love to her, Gigi or Gilberte, employs her own tactic of figuring out how to handle the situation, breaking away from her grandmother and mother’s advice.

La Chatte or in English, The Cat, is a much more complex story narrated in rich, detailed prose. The Cat outlines the love of the protagonist, Alain, towards his beautiful cat, Saha. The story then unravels how his marriage to Camille Malmert affects Saha and Alain’s relation with Saha. The story takes a plunge into Alain’s thoughts and emotions toward Saha, Camille, and his life in general, especially his deep love for the house he grew up in. Alain’s love for Saha is clear in the way he fondly calls out her name (with an aspirated ‘h’) and behaves with her ever so lovingly. His instinct toward Saha and his ability to know her inside out irks Camille to a certain extent, though she does try to come to terms with the cat.

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Women in Translation Month!

Starting the Women in Translation month with this promising read:

Because August is Women in Translation Month!

Let’s celebrate it and put the limelight on more women writers!

When the Doves Disappeared is an intriguing tale about Soviet occupation of Estonia which is told through the interweaving of two separate timelines!

I am excited to dig into my first book from Estonia!

Click here to read more about Women in Translation month and about endless lists of books by women writers that have been translated.

Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology

I am pretty sure that I have read Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology, edited by Eunice De Souza, in my undergraduate days but I stumbled upon it once again in the library and the faint familiarity of the poems within the book wafted in my mind.

As the title suggests, Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology, contains a selection of poems written in English by nine Indian female poets. The poets included in this anthology are Mamta Kalia, Kamala Das, Melanie Silgardo, Eunice De Souza herself, Imtiaz Dharker, Smita Agarwal, Sujata Bhatt, Charmayne D’Souza and Tara Patel.

The most familiar poets for me were Mamta Kalia, Kamala Das, Eunice De Souza, Imtiaz Dharker and Sujata Bhatt.

My favourite has to definitely be Mamta Kalia’s cheeky and wry poetic style.

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Most of the nine poets have a common theme through them of addressing ideas and issues that affect them such as identity and language, marital relations, family matters or even ex lovers. However, saying that this is all that their poems express would be a gross generalisation which I will not be a party to. Each of the nine poets have specific issues that they deftly express. Each is versatile and each has her own unique style.

For instance, one of the central ideas in Kamala Das’ poems included in his collection is navigating the dynamic of male and female gender roles. On the other hand, Mamta Kalia’s poems artfully use wit to portray women and their routines and challenge those very routines, be it in the automatic love expected out of a daughter to her father or the routines of married life. Whereas Sujata Bhatt’s poems are on the other end of the spectrum where she tries to make sense of the various identities that she carries within. Eunice De Souza’s poems however often take into consideration very Goan Catholic themes as do Melanie Silgardo’s poems.

One of my favourite poems is by Melanie Silgardo titled, Cat, simply because of its words’  visual power that being a cat lover, I can immediately recognise as being typically belonging to any cat’s idiosyncrasies.

Mamta Kalia’s poem, Tribute to Papa, is another of my favourites as it boldly challenges a typical Indian privilege we proffer on to our fathers. The poem stands out because of its sheer defiance.

All in all, Nine Indian Women Poets: An Anthology is a visual and aural delight as one gets to read the best of 20th century female Indian poets.

Be sure to read them out loud and immerse yourself in their lilting rhythms!

Travel Diaries: Circle of Karma

The Circle of Karma by Kunzang Choden is the first novel written by a woman in Bhutan. Using simple language and straightforward plot line, the story weaves around Tsomo and her literal and metaphorical journey from her childhood to her old age.

Set in the mid-20th century Bhutan, The Circle of Karma‘s protagonist is Tsomo, who lives in Tang valley in Bumthang (one of the districts of Bhutan), is burdened with household chores and envious of her brothers getting a religious education from her scholarly father, who was a gomchen (a religious scholar/monk).

She deeply loves and respects her mother. She fears her father. She wants to learn to read and write but being a girl, she is not allowed to do so.

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Her observant nature though allows us a glimpse into several cultural aspects around her such as the nature of society and its bias towards women or the rituals that happen around her in her society.

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