Welcome to the book blog of writer and creative writing tutor, Diane Paul.

Thanks to the publishers and kind PR people who send me books and releases about their clients' books for review. Press releases and review copies of fiction and non-fiction are always welcome. (No sci-fi, fantasy or erotica please.)

Due to the barrage of requests from self-published authors for reviews, I'm unable to deal with them all, although I'm sometimes drawn to non-fiction for the subject matter. And because I love print books, the smell, the touch of the paper and the sight of the words, I don't have an electronic reader or review e-books.

E-mail to: bookblogforbookworms@keywordeditorial.com for the postal address.

My writing website: http://www.keywordeditorial.com/

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Indian women's stories

Six years ago I received a signed copy of a book of short stories from a former writing pupil. Aruna Nambiar was living then in Bangalore and I'd tutored her by correspondence. I remember her as a dedicated student, determined to pursue her freelance writing career alongside engineering management and retail banking. She has written for a variety of Indian newspapers and edited a travel anthology called The Itinerant Indian, which she also sent me and which I am ashamed to say still lies unread on the mounting pile by my bed.


Curtains is an anthology of short stories contributed by Aruna and eight other Indian women of differing cultural backgrounds, communities, religions and ages; their jobs range from journalism to college professors, engineers to homemakers and they are spread over different parts of India and the world. They have one thing in common and that is their love of the written word. Their stories cover a wide range of emotions and themes, many based on true life experiences or people they have known but certainly using their cultural backgrounds to write about their world.

If sometimes real life stories don't translate well to fiction, structure doesn't hold up well or anecdote or incident has been mistaken for plot, this is one occasion where it can be overlooked because the enjoyment for me came from learning about the richness of the culture, whether village life and customs or descriptions of Indian food and spices or middle-class traditions. Learning about arranged marriages, so alien to the western world, yet so acceptable to those Indian girls whose fathers or brothers find their husbands for them, makes fascinating reading. How lucky we are to have the freedom to make choices, even though they may not turn out to be the best for us and how protective Indian parents have been to ensure their daughters marry someone known to them.

Two stories

Two stories stood out for me, the first by Andaleeb Wajid, which gives the book its title - Curtains. Andaleeb, a technical author for a documentation company, comes from Vellore and her stories are based on this town. Her characters are taken from people she has met. Her story, Rendezvous at Tea won her a prize in the Kathalok Short Story Writing Competition. 'Winning it changed the way I wrote fiction, as it reinforced my belief that I was in the right direction. More so, because I had attempted something different and winning it greatly increased my confidence,' she says.

In Curtains, the fluttering light blue curtains provide a marker for Farida as she remembers them on specific occasions. They are in the house of her husband's boyhood, where she has lived since her marriage. The curtains reassure her that life goes on, whatever happens. She used to watch them being washed regularly under her mother-in-law's supervision. But they hang limp and unwashed four years after her mother-in-law's death and water is in short supply. Should she buy new ones?

Farida is lonely with an unattentive husband. She has lost her self-esteem and has let the house go. She takes down the curtains and sees outside three young men smoking. She thinks the ugliest one has leered at her as she hangs up sheets in place of the curtains. She asks her husband for new curtains. '...if they're dirty it's because you haven't washed them,' he says. '...you haven't washed them even once...They could well last another ten years...' Farida pays the servant to wash them for her. She hangs up the clean curtains - the young man is there alone and he acknowledges her. She waves back. She has found a way to be noticed and acknowledged that she doesn't have in her life. Guess who is going to have the cleanest curtains in the street? And although this is really an incident rather more than a plot and it's quite a drawn out story, it carries a very strong message, particularly for women who spend their day alone with only the household chores to fill their time. We all need to be valued and acknowledged; if we are valued we value ourselves.


The story that made me laugh the most was Rani, written by Sarita Mandanna from Coorg. Sarita has an MBA from Wharton Business School and she works in New York. Written in first person, Rani grows up in a culture of superstition where horoscopes are cast to ensure a prospective husband is a good match for a girl. 'Never defy God. Or argue with the fates.' Rani studies medicine and her family find a good match in her second cousin, Venu, also a medic. 'The elders decided, and we trusted their judgment,' she says. Inevitably, she falls in love with a Captain called Banesh and she wants to marry him. The outcome is ironic but it offers great insights.

Curtains is published by Unisun Publications, www.unisun4writers.com/ email info@unisun4writers.com

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