About the Author
Editor of Odyssey : Stories by Indian Women Settled Abroad, Divya’s other publications include anthologies of poems, Rail Ka Likha (Sandscript), Antehsalila (River that flows in one’s heart), Khyaal Tera (Perceptions), II September (Dreams Debris and a story collection Akrosh (which won Padmanund Sahitya Samman). Her stories and poems have been included in several anthologies. Staged at Paul Robson Theatre by Navrang Theatre, her first play Tete-a-tete was critically acclaimed.
Founder member of The Asha Foundation, Advisor to the Charnwood Arts (Loughborough), Vice President of the Hindi Samiti-UK, associate of the International PFN Foundation, ex- Chairperson of the Katha-UK and Co-Chair in the Organising Committee for the World Hindi Conference, Divya is on the Editorial Board or several magazines.
As Programme Officer of the Nehru Centre, London, Divya aims at addressing the cultural aspirations of the Indian community and promoting. Indo-British dialogue at the level of thoughts and shared experience.
I am delighted to introduce this outstanding collection of short stories, Aashaa, by Indian women. The word Aashaa has profound meanings in various languages. To many, it represents hope; to others it symbolises divine justice and the righteous way.
This collection is precisely named, as the stories are full of hope and justice. With such a diversity of related meanings for aashaa, it should come as no surprise that the stories in this compelling book are at the same time so diverse, yet interconnected and vital.
Some of the stories are set around villages where folk are dependent upon each other (see, for example, On the Other Side of the River). Some stories demonstrate a similar trait of dependency, but this time in the cities, with a pretence of independence (see The Hero, The Villain, The Clown); they explore the consequences of the past (My Lover’s Name) and of the future (Aak Egarasi). They use toilet humour (The Foundation Stone rand great national and personal tragedy (Man Will Not Die); they are about the delicacies of Indian families (Mausi) and the suffocating stance of family ‘honour’ (Cursed Souls and the Debt); the stories can be brimming with description (The Jewelled Serpent), or just consist of a dialogue, a monologue even! (Are You Listening?); they expose the developing intensity of a mother- child relationship (asha), simple love (The Weed) or the shrinking spirit and greed of grown-ups (Negation).
They deal with the problems of coping with a new life amidst death (The Doomsday Has Come) or following death (A Woman Is Dead); and they include a story that combines so many of these elements in so short a space that it is difficult to categorise (The Warmth of Touch). Yet despite the attempt above, the same could be said of all the stories and each reader will have a personal response to each story. So perhaps we should consider what else they have in common - the golden threads that link them:
Fate is certainly a mutual theme: ‘It is an accepted fact that every Indian lives more in the future than in the present - and wants to understand it better than the present,’ says one character. Relations between men and women are another: ‘Men ... what use were they? But she needed one. Unfortunately.’ And freedom - sometimes from their own family - is yet another: ‘Escape. How? She had dreamt of it so many times. The faces changed - but the dream remained the same.’
However, although fate, family and freedom are interconnected throughout the collection, the common motif is overwhelmingly femaleness. Even in instances where all the characters are male, as in Aak Egarasi, the feminine perspective is represented throughout. It is proclaimed in women’s actions and reactions to both life and death. ‘Need!’ asks one male character in Negation, laughing with biting scorn, ‘can you satisfy all my needs?’
People certainly read to satisfy different needs: study, relieving boredom, amusement, inspiration and several more reasons. All great writing drives a reader to re-examine his/her own life and to observe the world with a new eye - this is what I hope you will experience after reading these stories.
I first read them on a train to the Lake District in NW England. I was travelling with my mother and, although she wanted to reminisce, she was happy to share these stories with me. Despite the years between us, we both related to them. Though much has changed in the world, much remains the same, particularly for women! Our lives still revolve around our loved ones. Greater freedom for women has not meant fewer responsibilities or needs.
Mummy and I were escaping together to see the homes and gardens of three contrasting English authors who have had an impact on our lives: Wordsworth, Potter (Beatrix rather than Harry!) and Ruskin. Echoes of each run deep in the stories here. Words worth’s poetic language remains delightful centuries later and though these stories have been translated, you can sense the poetry in their writing and the timeless themes they have adapted. Beatrix Potter has engaged the imagination of generations, dealing with the English delight in furry animals.
These stories are more about human nature, but the imagination is there for all to read. Ruskin’s writing is old-fashioned, but his vision remains relevant. Like his writing, the stories in this anthology are examining equality, exploitation and the need for energy in our lives.
With me on the way back from my brief holiday, I brought home a tall hand-made wooden bird table to replace one that had fallen to pieces over many years. I’ve been told since childhood that to feed birds brings one great blessings and that a house without a bird table is almost as bad as a home without books. The train was crowded and I was worried that such a large object in such a cramped carriage would be unpopular. Instead, it was handed around safely and became an excuse for everyone to is cover more about other people and their own reaction to such an unexpected object. Even those without a garden or interest in birds were involved in making sure the table arrived safely at my London home.
I hope that this fine collection of short stories will be read by a far-reaching audience who would not ordinarily hear the voices of Indian women. It too should be passed around, encouraging conversation and friendly interaction wherever it travels.
Aashaa: Short Stories by Contemporary Indian Women Writers is a sequel to the well-received and critically acclaimed anthology, Odyssey: Short Stories by Indian Women Writers Settled Abroad, published about five years ago to mark the Golden Jubilee of India’s Independence, which was launched by Dr L M Singhvi, former Indian High Commissioner, in a hugely successful programme at The Nehru Centre, London, in which most of its contributors, including the legendary Attia Hosain, participated.
While I was able to collect stories by some very acclaimed and some not- so-acclaimed writers, I could not get through to several big names for varied reasons. Also, there is no rigid ideological thread weaving through the individual narratives, but the writings in general seek to locate the positions and struggles of women within a society where they find themselves often doubly discriminated against. This anthology could be of immense literary and sociological interest in the light of the mainstream prominence and critical praise generated by literature coming from the Indian subcontinent in recent times.
Originally, I had decided to publish Odyssey in four parts - (I) Indian Women Writers Settled Abroad, (2) aashaa: Indian Women Writings in Hindi and (3&4) Indian Women Writings in Other Indian languages. Although I have not abandoned aashaa (hope/faith), unfortunately I don’t have the time and the strength to cope with the third and the fourth collections, so I decided to use all the stories I had collected in this anthology.
These stories cover a wide spectrum of emotion and expression. Ranging from introspective analysis to satire, from subtle comedy to the downright ludicrous, from negation to faith, they also reflect the changing social scenario of the new millennium.
At first sight, it appeared to be a tremendous task even to attempt to translate varying stylistic nuances, the colloquialisms and the dialects into another language. We adopted a flexible attitude. Words were retained in the original, literally translated or substituted by equivalent phrases in English, if they sounded right and did not upset the syntactical structures.
I have called this anthology aashaa - to reflect its collective resonance, which is one of hope, and one assaying to address injustices meted out to women all over the world.
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