About the Book
This exciting new anthology showcases 21 of the best short stories by South Asian women under the age of 40.
Ranging from the lyrical to the humorous to the darkly disturbing, these previously unpublished stories highlight the desires, concerns and obsessions of young women from the subcontinent. A new generation of writers is emerging who are boldly tackling new forms and styles, including historical detective fiction, graphic short stories, and stories intercut with email and sms messages.
The stories are as varied as the women themselves, and celebrate the diversity and range of women literature for the twenty-first century.
About the Author
Anita Roy is a freelance critic and writer. Brought up in England, she has been based in New Delhi for over a decade, where she has worked as a publisher and editor for a variety of national and international publishing houses. She is currently commissioning editor with Young Zubaan.
Compiling this collection, I was constantly reminded of Ursula Le Guins image: a older woman, the Imagination, sitting by a lake, discussing the act of writing of a woman writing with a young girl. And why it is that the simple act of setting pen to paper is, for many women, a leap of faith, an act that seems to require bravery of qualitatively different king than that demanded of men.
What is so difficult about writing a story, any story, for anyone? After all, telling of stories is what we do all the time across time, across gender, across cultures, it is a almost a species definition: homo narratives. Yet for women, perhaps particularly for South Asian women, setting pen to paper in not only a creative act, but one of defiance—a refusal to conform to a set of expectations, about what it is to be a woman, about what it is to be a writer, and about what women could, should, or musts not write about.
For an older generation of women writers, struggling to make themselves heard in a world in which women voices were silenced or marginalized and women experiences trivialized, identifying themselves as women writers was an important political act. Others railed against the label seeing it trading one straitjacket for another. Today, there a similar discomfort with Indian Writers in English: Why the hedging about with national and linguistic identity? Why can one not simply be a writer and have done with it?
As anyone who has set pen to paper will tell you, threes nothing about being a writer is that simple. And for many of the young women who submitted their stories to this anthology regardless of whether or not they were finally chosen writing at all has required a large degree of courage.
As publishers, we were surprised, delighted and truth be told a little overwhelmed at the response to our call for submissions. Of the more than 200 that had my inbox groaning and straining at the seams, 21 made it through to the final selection.
If this collection is representative of anything other than the editors own quirky sensibilities, it demonstrates that young South Asian women are boldly experimenting with form, style, and subject matter. Rather than a rejection of old style feminist writers, this seems to show that the current generation is using the bedrock laid by the last as a kind of springboard.
As well as a graphic short story by Epsita Halder, the collection includes historical detective fiction (Madhulika Liddle) and stories told in email and online chatrooms (MeenaKandasamy and Nisha Susan). The stories range from humourous (Shahnaz Hussain, Anju Mary Paul) to the heartrending (Aishwarya Subramaniam), from the lyrical (Swarnalatha Rangarajan, Adithi Rao) to the satirical (Paromita Chakraborty). Stories in which sex and transgressive love are boldly told, such as Mridula Koshys The Large Girl, Tishani Doshis Spartacus and the Dancing Man, and Diana Romanys disturbing Ferris wheel. Along with Romany, several other writers, such as Anjum Hasan, and Roohi Choudhry, take on male personas to tell their tales, moving across the gender divide in a way which may have seemed unthinkable to an older generation.
The name of our publishing house, Zubaan, means tongue and carries with it the same additional meaning of language as English phrases speaking in tongues, foreign tongue, fork tongued, and tongue lashing. However, in Urdu, the word carried with it a double meaning. In phrases such as auraat ki zubaan it refers to womens talk, idle gossip, women who speak too much. It is in celebration of the chattering, gossiping, language machined that are the women of this subcontinent that Zubaan came into being.
As a publishing house, we also see ourselves as providing a space where those silenced or marginalized by the mainstream, can speak and be heard. In a place where the opportunities to publish short fiction are relatively few, this collection seemed to be an ideal way to provide a younger generation of women writers—many of whom have not been published before a chance to showcase their talents. We are proud to be the first, in many cases, to bring their work to a wider world.
Since I started with Ursula LeGuin, it seems only fitting to close with her too:
We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.
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