Fifteen stories by varied authors, all contemporary women from different regions of India.
In a dry introductory essay, Mary Ellis Gibson emphasizes the linguistic, geographical, and cultural diversity of the authors here—authors nevertheless all representative, each in her own way, of modern India. With the exception of Anita Desai, few will be familiar to American readers, but there is an unmistakable tone that seems to unite the stories: a combination of patience and determination that attempts to channel a fate usually seen as past challenge. Some of the tales are recognizable in terms Western feminists would understand: “A Day With Charulatha,” for example, describes the visit of a young scholar to the ancestral village of a famous novelist who wrote books at a time when such pursuits were so inappropriate for women that she was widely considered mad, while “Private Tuition With Mr. Bose” portrays the frustration of a poor schoolmaster who considers it unseemly for women to study literature but gives lessons to a well-to-do young lady for extra cash. Other stories highlight the differences between Eastern and Western attitudes. In “Izzat,” a poor maidservant begs a former employer to hire her daughter—a teenaged girl so beautiful that the mother fears for her virginity in their rough neighborhood—only to find that the girl’s beauty brands her as too much of a temptation for her to be allowed to work in a respectable home. “The Hirja,” similarly, deals with the boundaries of sexual respectability: An old woman travels through the camps of the outcasts searching for the hermaphrodite baby that her family forced her to give away 18 years before. The best stories are the most fantastic: “I” describes a young boy’s sense of estrangement from his family (magnified in his own mind by a story of how his mother had “lost” him as a baby), while “I Am Complete” is a short meditation by a woman rejoicing over the collapse of her marriage.
Overall, an interesting and exotic mosaic.