Since I enjoyed last week's stories so much I decided to continue on with The Lotus Singers, edited by Trevor Carolan. I've been rationing the stories, just a few each week, but since I'm on a little roll I might just keep going and read straight through. I love reading about other cultures and other places and imagining what the country must look like, whether the people are vastly different than those I know here and whether the problems we deal with are the same and the things that make us happy are as different as our languages and cultures.
Once again I've read the next three stories in the anthology. Two were written in English and the third in Urdu. I've never read anything written in Urdu before, so I feel like I am expanding my horizons just a little bit. The stories I read were set in Bhutan, Nepal and Pakistan respectively.
Kunzang Choden is Bhutan's best known writer internationally. She's published a book of folktales as well as a novel, The Circle of Karma, which is semi-autobiographical and has been translated into several languages; it was "acclaimed by critics abroad for its rich portrayal of daily life in this beautiful, remote part of the globe". Her work deals with social and women's issues as reflected in her story, "I Won't Ask Mother".
Eighteen-year old Yeshimo yearns for a life she was cheated out of since she is an only daughter who is needed at home to take care of her younger brothers and sickly mother. Yeshimo was granted one year of education when she was very young before her mother became ill. How can boys be expected to do a woman's work and take care of a sick mother, Yeshimo is asked. She is a loyal daughter who listens to her mother, but is stuck in a situation with no opportunities. Yeshimo has few pleasures save listening to the radio while working in the garden (until it becomes too much of a strain on her mother) or watching TV at the house of her friend. She remains at home cooking and cleaning while her neighbors and friends go off to their office jobs--dressed in heels and lovely clothes where they work on computers and office machines. The only machine she knows how to run is the family rice cooker. It is only by looking inward that Yeshimo will find a sense of empowerment to better her life.
Nepalese author and filmmaker Sushma Joshi has been published in Utne Reader, Ms. Magazine, and Kyoto Journal and is the founder and editor of the online journal Reproductions, which is affiliated with Harvard University. She has also written a book of art criticism and a short story collection, End of the World which was longlisted for the Frank O'Connor Award.
In "Law and Order" Bishnu looks out of his window overlooking a garden which is filled with earthly delights. Literally. After a failed attempt, and the loss of both his front teeth, at joining the British Gurkha Army (a job which would have offered him both distinction and security), he becomes a policeman in the small community of Naxal. The recruits are given small living quarters called cells but not very generous helpings at mealtime. As a matter of fact there are only three ways to supplement their food rations: stealing from the officers' mess, intimidating shopkeepers or hoping your family will send food from home. Bishnu begins dreaming of food and of the beautiful daughters who live in the house below, combining the vegetables in the garden with the women in the house in rather fanciful combinations. If only there wasn't a wall keeping him in the police precinct and a wall keeping him out of the garden!
Hasan Manzar (Syed Manzar Hasan) is a physician, but has published several collections of short stories as well as a novel, all in Urdu. However, his work also appears in English in The Penguin Book of Classic Urdu Stories. "Manzar's style is noted for its social realism. His literary concerns reflect the current social and political influences, as well as the ambivalence human beings can demonstrate when confronted with moral dilemmas." His story "Emancipation" is translated from Urdu by Muhammad Umar Memon.
On a return journey from the Holy Ganges a woman is placed in an unwelcome situation. She had made a pilgrimage to the Ganges in the hope she might be able to conceive a child. As her husband dislikes the idea of women traveling in the same compartment together with their husbands she sits alone and is accosted by the ticket collector when he makes his rounds. Only by pulling the cord and stopping the train does she stop the man before he can rape her. Her pious visit to the Holy Ganges changes the course of her life, and her accusation drives a wedge between herself and her husband and in-laws. "No matter how the court ruled, as far as they were concerned I was no more than a beautiful, expensive glass object, which, once broken, is allowed to remain at home, but which can scarcely be used again." This is a story that most decidedly deserves a reread.
I've been very impressed so far by the stories I've been reading and am interested in seeing which themes pop up over and over again--religion, race, class, caste, social and ecological issues. The stories have been told by a variety of perspectives by both men and women as well as young and old. I'm looking forward to reading more and will tell you about them next week.