IN OTHER WORDS: New Writing by Indian Women by Urvashi & Ritu Menon -- Eds. Butalia

IN OTHER WORDS: New Writing by Indian Women

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An amiable, never challenging, anthology of 14 short stories, all written in English, showcasing the talent of contemporary Indian women writers. The editors cofounded a feminist press in India. An Indian women's literary history is difficult to trace, the introduction informs, because the writing emerges from disparate traditions and sociopolitical backgrounds. Despite this, clear similarities in themes, styles, and subject matter (almost all concern the upper class) rub shoulders throughout these pages, kindred spirits all. In the frothy first story, Manjula Padmanabhan's ""A Government of India Undertaking...,"" the fundamental search for identity appears in the form of an ordinary woman with the opportunity to escape her fate through soul transmigration. In Ritu Bhatia's ""The Smothering,"" an Indian married to a blond man from Queens, NY, rejects her heritage to become American; she returns to Indian culture only when misfortune demands solace. The past haunts many heroines: Tales told from hindsight abound, and they often concern relationships to family -- often to grandmothers. In Manorama Mathai's ""Sara,"" a namesake granddaughter reconstructs from family lore, a sepia photograph, and her imagination her grandmother Sara's short, unfulfilled life, which parallels her own. The most affecting portrait of the bunch (in Githa Hariharan's ""The Remains of the Feast"") is that of Ratna, who as a child sneaks her great-grandmother forbidden confections to enjoy before cancer consumes her. Ratna grows up to become a doctor, smelling tangy melancholy in nearby tea-stalls and bakeries. The forbidden (usually in the shape of love affairs) is wedded to individual identity -- preserving oneself sometimes requires desperate, uncondoned measures: A son kills his mother in Urmila Banerjee's ""The Tamarind Tree Murder"" to spare her the shame of discovering his bigamy. The structures range from science fiction to fable, and the writing styles vary as widely -- often bluntly saying more than literate readers need. Via land transport (this one never soars), a safe ride to an unfamiliar world.

Pub Date: July 25th, 1994
Page count: 196pp
Publisher: Westview