Book Review: Evocative anthology of stories on women by women

The rich tapestry of Assamese culture and literature comes alive in this anthology of short stories, which is a must read for not just for readers of fiction, as well as social scientists

Photo courtesy: Social media
Photo courtesy: Social media

Ashish Kumar Singh

Fiction often suffers in translations. That is why Parbina Rashid deserves to be complimented for editing the English anthology of short stories, Echoes from the Valley, written by some of the more prominent women writers from Assam. Unfortunately, the production of the book is sloppy, with typos detracting from, otherwise,11 fine stories.

Sneha Devi’s Let’s talk tells the story of Barun and Kalyani, who are in love but do not feel the urge to say it out. In their hearts, they know that they are in love. But then, love possibly needs articulation, speech, gestures, or even quarrels.

Silence does play an important role, but when silence dominates their conversation, other emotions take over. Barun asks Kalyani out, but he is never convincing enough and as time takes its toll, their lives change. They do talk about it in this story, spanning 20 years of their lives. Words like 'friendship', 'what if', 'mutual respect', etc occupy the centre stage, and their conversations are never complete. On a poignant note, that speaks of unrequited love, Barun finds a scrap of paper left in his pocket that reads, “You wanted to take me out to a place far away, let’s save it for our next birth…”

Indira Goswami’s Purification reminded me of the works of renowned Hindi writers such as Kamleshwar and Prem Chand. Purification is about a man, his bedridden wife, and a widow, who holds the promise of a child to take forward his lineage. Seamlessly narrated, this story dwells on the themes of sexuality, women’s dependence on men and independent rural woman.

Midas’ Tragedy, by Nirupama Borgohain, touches on the conflict of accepting a smart, intelligent and educated girl as a life-partner. Even her best friend, who's a male, finds it difficult to accept.

Both An Incomplete Story, by Rita Chowdhury, and Anuradha Sharma Pujari’s A few days in Banphool’s life dwell on issues of child widows, family honour and caste system. Manikuntala Bhattacharjya’s The Glass Pyramid is a long story bordering on a novel that, in essence, argues that an independent woman is a happy woman. The two sides of the Hillock, by Arupa Patangia Kalita, is a story of working women and their lives. The Hands, by Anuradha Gogoi, is a short experimental story expressing the dilemmas that confront a young girl.

Mausami Kandali’s Kalindi, Your Black Currents shows interactions of Assamese women and young girls with the society. Whereas Juri Borah Borogohain’s Urge is Ramayana, but from Sita’s perspective. A strong flavour of the Assamese culture is deeply embedded, including in the voices that reflect protest and rebellion.

Echoes from the Valley—Stories by Assamese Women Writers. Edited by Parbina Rashid. Published by Media House.

A byline correction was made on May 8, 2017.

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Published: 07 May 2017, 4:01 PM