Tag Archives: Original

Rajaram’s Book On the Reality of the Dutch East India Company

Samantha Rajaram’s debut novel The Company Daughters transports readers to the Dutch Renaissance with the rise in its national power as a seafaring nation, the growth of a new urban bourgeoisie with its patronage for visual arts like portraiture, new styles of urban architecture, gardening, flower arrangement, and cuisine, but beneath this façade of beauty and refinement lurks the seamier underbelly of mercantile capitalism: colonization, slave trade and overt and covert forms of human trafficking. Rajaram, a California Bay Area native, a former lawyer, and an English professor plumbs this rich material for her accomplished fictional debut.

The novel is narrated from the first-person perspective of the protagonist Jana Beil. It follows a tripartite structure with the first part opening in Amsterdam where a hungry and desperate Jana is seeking work as a servant in the prosperous sections of Amsterdam as a house servant after, we will be told later, having escaped a childhood of parental neglect and violence and a horrific period of sexual slavery in Amsterdam’s newly emerging brothels. A wealthy young woman Sontje Reynst hires her, and this marks the beginning of a life-long relationship between these two women from very disparate social strata.

For Jana, employment in the Reynst household provides a modicum of stability and comfort, which is quickly lost when Master Reynst’s fortune is lost in a shipwreck. Jana is quite resilient and secures employment in another rich household, the De Graf family. Sontje’s life is more dramatically overturned by her father’s financial losses and her coveted engagement is called off by her suitor Hans. She cannot find a way out of her mounting debts to creditors and the potential loss of her home. It is at this juncture that she comes across the Dutch East India Company’s advertisement for single women to make the voyage to Batavia, present-day Indonesia, to become wives of Dutch settlers there. She signs up for her arduous year-long voyage and Jana decides to accompany her.

Amsterdam Dutch East India Company Trader

The second part of the novel is set on the ship, Leyden, and captures the hardships and dangers of this arduous voyage. Jana and Sontje, along with the other Company daughters face diseases like scurvy which affects many sailors and eventually kills one of the daughters. As the voyage reaches its final stages there is a shortage of food and drinking water. Sontje is also subjected to sexual violence in this journey, and it is Jana’s loving care that brings her back from the brink of death. It is in the Leyden that the girls establish a romantic intimacy, proclaiming their hearts and bodies as autonomous of the cogs of the capitalist patriarchal Company that is trading them as wives to settlers.

When they reach Batavia, Sontje is married off to Willhelm, a settler of ill repute, who is abusive towards her. Jana is married to Mattheus, an older, though kinder man. Jana feels no attraction for her husband and spends her days waiting for some sporadic contact with Sontje. After the hiatus of their marriages and Sontje giving birth to a son, the two girls renew their intimacy. Both are acutely uncomfortable with the operations of the settler society which relies on various kinds of slave labor. Jana’s tenuous autonomy and marital harmony are again disrupted by Mattheus’s death in an accident. Somehow, when all seems lost until two of her native slaves come to her rescue by offering to sell their native dyed fabrics. The novel closes with the prospect of renewal.

Samantha Rajaram deserves kudos for her historical research in uncovering this material: the Dutch East India Company procuring wives for settlers. She presents a very accurate picture of Renaissance Amsterdam with its class and religious disparities. The depiction of the long sea voyage is powerful in its harrowing detail. The lesbian love story is also presented with great tenderness and serves as a space of feminist defiance against multiple gendered oppressions.

However, the presentation of feminist solidarity between Jana, the Dutch protagonist, and her native Indonesian slaves, Aini and Candra, does not seem to be historically accurate. It is perhaps more of a utopian aspiration of the author. But it feels like Dues Ex Machina in a novel, which is otherwise unsentimental in its representation of colonial history and seductive in its ability to capture and preserve the reader’s interest in this violent and inhumane era.


Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

The Company Daughters by Samantha Rajaram. Bookouture, October 2000

Pink and Pollution at 4 O’Clock

I’ve begun applying hot coconut oil on my hair again every Saturday. I search for the little footprints I left back in the streets of India playing football. I seek that warm sun and humidity in Hyderabad on Saturday evenings. I’ve begun reminiscing about the pink and pollution of 4 pm. The kiraane ki dukaan that quenched my thirst with sprite and a 10 rs. Lays packet. I reminisce about the rainy days of playing four corners instead of basketball. I remember the smell of rain hitting concrete. I remember the feeling of melted dairy milk silk on my fingers, the cold glass of mango juice that numbs my fingers on a hot day, the smell of yellow daal tadka, and aloo after coming home from school on Saturday. 

Artwork by Swati Ramaswamy

This nostalgia made me realize: the smell of rain on concrete is not so different in San Francisco. Sprite tastes the same here, just a little (lot) sweeter. The sun at 4 pm yesterday was bright and golden and made me feel like I was in Mumbai. As a kid, I never understood the feeling of belonging to a place, everywhere can be your home if you want it to. But this past year I felt so distant from every place that I had called home. I felt in between things and just slightly offbeat. But these small things, like the smell of concrete and the sun, connected me back to all my homes. It connected me to Sunday morning skies in Japan, which were perfectly blue and sunny. It connected me to the most beautiful view from my balcony in India. It made me realize that pieces of my home, that felt most like it, always carry themselves with me. They repeat, they renew. No matter how much I change or grow, they give me comfort when I need it. The new year felt like that. Like the smell of freshly baked cake in the kitchen. Like finally making the perfectly round and “crisp on the outside soft on the inside” dosa. It feels just happy enough to be happy for no reason and happy enough to be happy when I’m sad. The feeling of jumping into a cold pool on the hottest day. It was like landing. I think home, wherever it is, invokes comfort in its meaning rather than its physicality. This phase of nostalgia made me realize that if I ever feel lost, I’m still always home.

Renewal. It’s a very tedious word. We renew passports, leases, and licenses. It’s a process that we have already achieved, but need to repeat. Renewals are odd and vacant. But the years that repeat are also renewals. The seasons renew too, so the second time it rains you have an umbrella. Situations repeat, and we change how we react to those repetitions, and we grow. This new year won’t be much different, but I hope it ends up being one of familiarity and comfort, even if it is about seeking new things. I hope there is always belonging, there is always that memory of a home that makes you feel permanent, like a cold glass of mango juice on a hot day.


Swati Ramaswamy is a recent graduate from UC Davis and is an aspiring creative writer who loathes speaking in the third person. 

In 2020, Science Fiction is Freedom

Legends of Quintessence – a column that interacts with Science Fiction in a South Asian context. 

The year 2020 has been a very strange one. This year has made me reflect on things I hold dear in my heart.

The first critical reflection was on people – family, friends, colleagues, mentors.

The second was freedom. Not just freedom of living in a free, democratic country but also mental freedom. I found my freedom in writing Science Fiction, where there were no boundaries to limit the imagination.

I have been writing for as long as I can remember. Most of my early pieces found their way to the trash can due to various reasons: moving continents, writing on loose sheets of paper, journals getting lost unwittingly. The intent was never to publish but to find an outlet for creativity. Putting pen to paper as a means to satisfy that creative urge. And somewhere down the line, I realized that I liked writing science fiction more than other kinds of stories. The ideas would come fast and would demand to be written…and I finally shifted from writing on paper to writing on my laptop. 

Then came March 2020 and the COVID crisis. Suddenly daily travel, socializing, watching movies in theaters, and my son’s violin concerts came to a halt. Instead, I started focusing on new gifts of quality family time, exercise, making healthier meals, reading books, and writing science fiction more often. The impetus to publish my writing grew. 

I believe I am very fortunate that I got to launch a Sci-Fi Column (Legends of Quintessence) with India Currents. When our publisher, Vandana Kumar shared the news with me, it was hard for me to believe that I was becoming part of such a prestigious and long-standing publication. It has been an amazing experience to bring Science Fiction to our readers: Interview with an artist @colorsofhoney, Sci-Fi short story ‘Aberration’, and an interview with @addictedtospice who shared a recipe worthy of feeding Aliens

And now as we look forward to 2021, a year that promises to be better and brighter, I am excited to continue bringing Science Fiction to our India Currents readers. Wish you all a very happy transition to 2021 and see you in the new year!

If you would like to read the Sci-Fi short story ‘Aberration’, here are the links to the chapters:

Chapter 1: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-tales-of-a-deviant/

Chapter 2: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-2/

Chapter 3: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-3/

Chapter 4: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-4/

Chapter 5: https://indiacurrents.com/aberration-chapter-5/


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Aberration: Chapter 5

This story is published every two weeks as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap: In the last chapter, Sneha’s truth is revealed to the others in the shelter. She also discovers that she has evolved due to her interactions with her cosmic friends. She feels that they have come back for her and once she meets them again, she realizes that her mother is part of them, living on.

Final Chapter: Immortal Grounds 

Sneha sobbed with realization and relief. As she looked around at her new family, she found comfort that her mother was still alive within their floating shapes. She knew that she faced an inevitable question: Should she go with her new family or stay with the humans?

“There’s more like you on various bases across the Universe”. She looked up as the shape right in front communicated with her.

“How many?” she asked, surprised. She thought that Earth had been the only research base for clones.

“Not sure,” it replied, “But we have seen many men and women pass through this constellation that are clones”. Sneha thought for a few moments. She wondered how many of these clones would have free will like hers. “Come with us,” he said, “You are one of us. I can feel your mother’s joy.” 

Sneha sat down for a long time. She looked back at the shelter a few times and knew what would be happening there: They would be communicating frantically with the other bases to report that she was hostile and asking for backup. She knew however that it would be days before any backup would arrive. 

She did not realize how exhausted she was as she fell asleep in between the stories they were sharing with her. When she woke up, she found them wrapped around her, protecting her as she slept. ‘They care about me” she thought as her emotions welled up. Sneha had never experienced any form of love before this. However, based on all she had heard about human emotion, this was the closest thing to love that she had ever experienced. She got up slowly and started walking towards the shelter. As she passed through the shelter walls, she saw them following her inside, her floating circle around her. 

The base commander stood there looking pale. Everyone at the shelter was standing behind him. Both humans and clones looked at her in shock. They still did not understand what was happening and why.

Sneha spoke slowly: “I want all the humans to pack up what you may need for a long trip, find another base that you can go to, and leave this shelter,” She paused, “Please let the others know that this planet and constellation is now for clones only. These are my family’s orders.” She saw them look even more confused. 

“I am giving the clones an option to stay and be part of my family if they want to”. Sneha was not sure how the other clones would react since they had no free will left. Of the nine other clones, only one walked towards her. She looked confused and torn. For the first time in her entire captive life, she was being asked to make a choice for herself….she wanted to but was scared. She shivered as she came over to Sneha and stood by her side. 

Sneha watched over the next few hours as the commander communicated with other bases, trying to find one that could shelter them. They packed and prepared, scared and concerned. She felt oddly at peace as she looked around the shelter and her family. She knew they had been maintaining this in the absence of humans and that’s why it was still functional. Her mother had integrated all her wishes, aspirations, and memories into them. It was time for Sneha to do the same and merge her existence into a floating, shared pool of life and intellect. 

They were finally ready to leave. Sneha noticed that the ship no longer showed any damages from the rough landing. She still had to learn how they managed to carry minerals and metals through space within their lifeform to be able to repair, revive, and build. “Ah, that’s for another day” she told herself smiling. 

Sneha turned to the commander for her parting message: “Do not try to attack us. You will not win. And I will not forgive any attackers”. The commander nodded shakily, ready to move as far away from this base as possible.

As the ship faded away, Sneha turned back towards the shelter. “What are the locations of other bases that are holding clones?” she asked. She listened carefully as many in the floating cloud shared what they had encountered during their journeys. “We’ll start freeing them once my evolution is complete,” she said to them. For now, they all went inside the shelter to rest. 

Go back and read Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, and Chapter 4!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Aberration: Chapter 3

This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap

In the last chapter, Sneha was disappointed when she learned that she would not travel to the positron cloud. Instead, she would be part of the backup team and find refuge on HR 4189-GR. However, her first steps on the planet were anything but boring. She did not know yet, but what awaited her was more than she could have asked for…

Chapter 3: Unfamiliar Past

Sneha’s head hurt as she lifted it to figure out where she was. She had a hazy memory of double vision and at this point, she was convinced she had been hallucinating. She got up and walked around to realize that she was inside the shelter on HR 4189-GR. As she walked out of the room, she entered the regular sleeping quarters in the shelter. She noticed that at the far end were stairs going up…perhaps to the dome above ground that she remembered seeing as they had exited the spaceship.

The shelter still functioned rather well for an old abandoned structure. The technology must have been centuries old and abandoned for as long, but a few years ago, when another spaceship was forced to land here, they found the shelter still functioning. Since then, it had been used as an emergency refuge. Sneha crossed the sleeping quarters and walked up the stairs to enter the fiber enclosure and looked around at the eerie atmospheric display of HR 4189-GR. She was about to turn around and go back underground when she heard a thud on the round wall behind her. She turned thinking it was someone from the crew but felt her throat dry up as she watched floating vapor change shape and come directly in front of her.

She saw the double vision again. The floating vapor transformed into solid shapes that moved and then reconnected back with the floating mass of vapor. She wanted to speak but knew in her mind that her language would be useless in communication. Somehow, this creature had managed to communicate with her telepathically. She reached out her hand, scared, but wanting to touch the floating shape.

She heard footsteps and saw the fluid shape move across the room and disappear into the wall. Sneha was stunned by her realization: there was something else on this planet besides just humans and clones. She waited for everyone to fall asleep and when all was quiet, Sneha walked outside. She picked up the gravity modifier and then almost dropped it in alarm, as she heard a voice in her brain say, “You do not need it.”

She panicked and ran up to see if she could spot anyone or anything through the transparent dome.

For many moments, Sneha stood debating if she should step out of the structure on her own. “Come out,” she heard her brain speak to her again. She stepped back in alarm but then decided to follow her instinct. She had come so far for an adventure …so why back down now?

As she stepped outside she felt surrounded by the floating shape. As her hand passed through the dense cloud it felt heavy and empty at the same time. “Your mother knew us. She was here”….she did not even realize that she was walking away from the structure towards a far-field of shapeshifting stones. As Sneha snapped back to reality, she wondered, how she was able to walk comfortably while gravity shifted constantly on this planet. She had left her gravity adjuster behind. 

They arrived at the field and she saw the floating mass transform into two distinct shapes, almost solid and opaque. “Who are they?” she wondered. “We are the Zetarians that inhabit the space your people call Antilla”. “So the legends were true,” Sneha thought. “Yes,” they replied. 

“Have you always lived here? How long has your species lived in this Constellation? Why did you approach me?” Sneha asked with absolutely no attempt at pacing her questions. “How do you know my mother?” 

The shapes moved closer to her, “Do you not remember yet? We have part of your DNA and you have part of our Fasilogram.”

There was a long silence as if they were waiting for her to suddenly see the light. “Do you mean my mother had your ‘Fasilo’?” Sneha asked confused…her mind was now evaluating a million possibilities…”But how did she get a part of you in her?” She asked. 

One of them moved closer and dropped a part of its mass on her arm. She watched in part horror as the heavy droplet disappeared into her skin. “So you are now part of me?” She looked at the shape and asked awkwardly?

“Wait!” it said. “Give your mind and body time to remember”. “Go back now and rest,” the other one told her. 

“No, don’t leave now!” she shouted at the disappearing shapes. She thought she heard a faint reassurance. “Don’t worry, we will be back soon,” as they completely disappeared. Sneha walked back to the shelter and lay down to rest. Something was going to change, she knew that. She believed that they would be back but had no idea what would happen then. Should she warn the others? Then she looked at her arm almost hoping to see her skin throw out the mass it had absorbed earlier. Would she die now? Or get some horrible, uncurable cosmic disease? 

Why only her? They had approached only her. Her mind bounced around a thousand questions as she fell asleep.

Go back and read Chapter 1 and Chapter 2!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Indian American Writer Learns From a 17th Century Dutch Woman

I recently celebrated the cover reveal for my debut novel The Company Daughters: A Heart-Wrenching Colonial Love Story. For me, it was the culmination of a long, difficult journey to publication.

I started writing this book nearly ten years ago. I was in the middle of a stressful divorce, raising three kids under the age of five, and I had returned to grad school for a career change from lawyer to English professor. By the Indian standards and expectations I’d grown up with, I felt like an utter failure. 

Every morning I forced myself out of bed before my children woke up and wrote at my kitchen table, accompanied by a hot cup of coffee and the familiar scent of the temple incense my father brought back from India. I wanted to write a story that addressed colonialism and other systems of power, and when I found a footnote mentioning a 17th-century picture bride policy of the Dutch East India Company, I couldn’t resist the pull of exploration. I shelved my fear of failure and the persistent feelings of inadequacy that often plague the immigrant offspring navigating community expectations. I plowed on. 

I read hundreds of articles. Studied maps. Perused books about 17th-century Dutch furniture, glass bead factories, shipping routes, forest glass blowers, and illnesses of the time. I traveled to Amsterdam, spending hours at the Rijksmuseum examining the furniture collection and still life paintings. I took a boat trip through Amsterdam’s canals and pretended to be my main character, impoverished, hungry Jana, trudging down the city’s narrow, meandering streets hundreds of years ago. 

At times, I thought, “How can I, an Indian-American woman in the 21st century, know anything about a 17th-century Dutch woman?” 

And then I remembered the books of my childhood, written by white authors who occasionally populated their books with Indian characters, mere props for white narratives. I wanted to know about these peripheral characters, to hear about their lives, their stories.

In writing The Company Daughters, I hoped to give my main character the complexity and humanity I often saw lacking in representations of Indian characters in books and on TV during my childhood. I wanted to avoid the pitfalls of white savior narratives while providing a glimpse into the colonial world and its hierarchies—structures of power that persist today.

And in connecting with people from other time periods, other cultures, other languages, I found shared humanity uniting us across centuries. Common desires for justice, love, freedom, and understanding that persist now. In my efforts to render a 17th-century Dutch woman sent across the world to marry a stranger, I began to recognize my own desire for agency, freedom, and a new life. 

I wish I could say that from that point on all went smoothly, but that is the fantasy of every writer, and the reality is much, much messier. Many people told me to give up on this dream. I don’t have an MFA. I didn’t know anything about writing a book or getting an agent. But I loved reading, an act which provided comfort whenever I felt lonely or alienated. And the characters kept “talking” to me. And I kept listening. 

Writing saved me. The steadiness of my characters’ voices in my mind alleviated the crushing loneliness of single parenthood. When I could not share my daughter’s newest milestones with anyone, I recorded them in scenes of my book (later excised). And when I was without my children, the insistence of my characters’ stories gave me purpose even as my heart ached with each separation.

Change can be incremental, and other times change comes on like a monsoon—heavy and relentless. In my author’s journey, I had a mix of both. I had the encouragement of my Creative Writing instructor at Stanford, and I had friends and family, worried by the potential for disappointment, who advised me not to get my hopes up, to consign writing to a weekend hobby. 

As an Indian-American writer, I was often conflicted with the requirements of my culture and the desires of my hidden self. Shouldn’t I use my time more productively? Shouldn’t I focus on activities with an assured financial return? Was I being a responsible mother?

But that’s not what writers do. We pursue the impractical, the impossible, the incredible, in spite of—perhaps because of—our ongoing dance with self-doubt, inadequacy, and fear. We ferret away moments for writing like squirrels stuffing acorns into knotholes. Waking before the sunrise to write, writing in our cars, committing lines to memory while waiting in checkout queues, eking out moments for creativity from the myriad of mindless routines that comprise a life. Describe the smile on that woman’s face. Observe the shape of that shadow.

In the end, the “monsoon” of my writing career was being selected as a Pitch Wars mentee. I landed my agent soon after and was offered my book deal another year after that. 

A book deal sounds so easy when the journey is reduced to a few hundred words. It was anything but. My debut novel is about a young woman hungry for life, love, justice, freedom, and reprieve, as I was. But it was a long journey, with starts and fits, highs and lows–as it should be. Writing is an act of transposition. When we are writing, we are writing our lives onto the page in some way or another. Every paragraph and chapter deleted, expanded, revised, and revised again promises a transformation in our characters. But those same moments open us up to the possibility of transformation in our own lives as well. That process is what made me a writer, and brought me to myself. 


Samantha Rajaram is a former attorney, solo mother of three, and English professor in the Bay Area. Her debut novel, The Company Daughters will be published in the US and UK this October. 

Aberration: Chapter 2

This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Recap

Sneha, our hero is one of many clones being raised within a research lab on earth. Unlike the others, she has free will. In the last chapter, we were left wondering if Sneha would get caught after switching places with another clone – a clone that was set to travel into space.

Chapter 2: Sudden Moves

Sneha was surprised how easily she got away with switching identities with another clone. They did not really care to investigate XT87’s death. She was now part of the group traveling to the Positron cloud and ready to get off of this old decaying planet. 

Two days later, Sneha sat strapped in the chair with her eyes closed and heart racing. She could feel her head pounding as the equipment whirred around her. 

They moved quickly from hypersonic to warp speed and she felt her inners lurch for a split second before a strange calm settled on the ship. She unclenched her hands and dared to breathe. Earth was behind her for now. Instead of being one of 3000, she was now one of 30 traveling to the positron cloud around the Fornax Void. There were nascent pockets of activity and the most recent research showed expansion of dark matter and the existence of multiple infantile positron clouds around voids and dark holes. Space had mysteriously been shifting violently for the last 5000 years with no indication of slowing down.  

This was going to be a rough and interesting voyage with the crew navigating many firsts. They had to avoid pathways linked to dark energy filaments across galaxies. Sneha was listening to the crew discussing the upcoming stop in 9 days on the base station close to the Sculptor Wall. Day 2 & 3 were easy to manage but days 4 & 5 got boring with very little opportunity to learn anything new as the crew restricted access due to systems checks.

On day 6, as they were out on the movement deck, Sneha realized something was not right. She overheard snippets of conversation from the crew…..“ new communication”….”old base” … “shelter for few days”…

The main deck hovered with communications. Things felt off and she felt shivers go down her spine. She waited to get back to her compartment and closed the door pretending that she felt disoriented like some of the others. Once inside, she touched the screen on the wall and started typing codes from her memory, hoping to get access to the communication channels. She knew she was shooting in the dark here. 

Soon she got frustrated, closed her eyes, and drifted away to sleep. She was jolted back to reality as a shrill voice repeated emergency instructions. They were making an unplanned stop on an old base HR 4189-GR within the Antilla Constellation. She remembered reading about it in the memoirs of some explorers that managed to survive on HR 4189-GR.

What made this constellation memorable were the rumors of alien life on its planets. Never verified, these accounts had become legendary since early intergalactic travels. Despite early romantic visions of interactions between alien species, it had been almost impossible to communicate or understand each other’s language, science, or other critical concepts. What had been documented was the expected life spans, conditions that led to the demise, and unique birthing phenomena for a few species that humans and humanoids could comprehend….at this point, any further conclusions were more art and imagination than science. 

She braced for landing. They had warned it would be tough as gravity was fluid in this constellation with the magnitude of its stars shifting constantly. Once secure on the surface, they were assembled on the transport deck and divided into two groups. Ten of them would stay here on the planet as backup and the other twenty would continue their journey towards the positron cloud. Her heart sank when she realized she would be staying on the planet. This was not why she came! She was meant to travel and be out there!

They had lost communication with Earth and a couple of other planets in the Virgo cluster. Incoming reports mentioned that the cosmic ripples traveling through the cluster led to the core of multiple planets collapsing. Sneha sat stunned as they narrated the loss of the research facility and their colleagues. She waited to hear some words of regret for the loss of so many Snehas. None came. There were no tears in the eyes of the crew….They were just samples- numbers in a log…Hundreds of samples lost in a catastrophe. She tried to contain the immense grief welling up inside her. 

As they exited the ship, Sneha was sharp again, absorbing everything she saw and sensed. Something told her to look at the far left corner of her vision. She was not sure what she saw but it was enough to shake her up. She felt her breath being torn from her for a second and then it started to become normal. Or so she thought momentarily …  but something stayed odd – she had two visions…it was almost as if there were two of her within one body! On one side she was seeing the path she was walking with other Snehas towards the shelter but on the other she saw something she did not quite understand – a vision of a dark path and moving shapes that seemed to drift between transparent and opaque forms. Her head started to hurt and she felt both visions collapse into one as she tumbled face forward, unconscious.


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Exclusive Zoom with Bandish Bandits

Bandish Bandits is a romantic drama series between two opposites:  Radhe (Ritwik Bhowmik) a musical prodigy from the Rathod Gharana of Jodhpur and Tamanna Sharma (Shreya Chaudhary), a young and beautiful rockstar.

Shreya fits the role to perfection because she is brimming with daredevil energy! Ritwik has a mischievous demeanor with sparkling eyes! Serendipity forces them to form a Rock band with an exciting name “ Bandish Bandits” which has so many connotations!  As they create exhilarating fusion music together, their pretend romance becomes a real thing! How lovely!  But will this love story hold up to family expectations or will destiny throw them a curveball? Set in the backdrop of picturesque Rajasthan steeped in ancient traditions and unique culture, the series is written and directed by the energetic young duo Anand Tiwari and Amrit Pal Singh Bindra and boasts a host of talented actors.

I really enjoyed chatting with Rajesh Tailang and Sheeba Chaddha. They talked about the process of selecting roles, being honest to their work, and letting the audience judge them on their merit. The actors’ commitment to acting and balancing their work on set with their personal life and hobbies is admirable. Both of them were very complimentary of the work ethic of their young costars and very impressed by their charming director, “ He likes to keep everyone happy while working together”. I could see that they all had a blast on set! I was intrigued about the roles they play but they skillfully kept that under the wraps and I think they were right!

The script of this ten-episode series is imbued in the exceptional music score handcrafted by the inimitable Shankar Ehsaan Loy! Be prepared to enter into a transcendental journey of love, adventure, and longing! Garaj Garaj Jugalbandi and Padharo Mhare Des are on my playlist now! I enjoyed hearing the backstory that just the preliminary practice session run of Raga Megh Malhar brought down torrential rain in the desert. That was helpful! I was heartened to hear that the actors were touched by the air, magic, and hospitality of Rajasthan. The desert never fails to cast a spell!

I am encouraged that this series aspires to showcase the cultural, aspirational, and musical diversity of the youth of our vast Indian subcontinent to the world. I have yet to converse with veteran actor Naseeruddin Shah in person but I kept hearing the same phrase repeated unanimously: “Naseer Sir is my guru and when he is on the set, everything changes for the better”!  I am more than certain that Naseeruddin’s role as a “Sangeet Samrat” will be rendered with the distinctive insight and finesse akin to Picasso. All in all, this is a delightfully curious narrative with a Bandish of stirring melodies! I can’t wait to binge-watch “Bandish Bandits”! I invite you all to tune in to the interviews and watch the show with us! 

The story is all about one exquisite thumri that twinkles in the heart of anyone who has ever experienced love!


Monita Soni grew up in Mumbai, India, and works as a pathologist in Decatur Alabama. She is well known for her creative nonfiction and poetry pieces inspired by family, faith, food, home, and art. She has written two books: My Light Reflections and Flow through my Heart. She is a regular contributor to NPR’s Sundial Writers Corner.

Former IC Intern Releases Anticipated Book

Shruti Swamy’s debut collection of stories A House is a Body is a highly anticipated volume, after the potential displayed in the publication of her stories in journals like the Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, Kenyon Review Online among others. She is also a two-time winner of the O’ Henry Prize. It might interest our readers to know that Shruti worked as an intern at India Currents long before her fiction became widely known.

Short stories as a genre are more difficult to market than long fiction forms like the novel or even the non-fictional genre of the memoir. In the South Asian American literary archive, short story collections that have had a profound effect on audiences and changed our expectations forever include Bharati MukherjeeThe Middleman and Other Stories and Jhumpa Lahiri’s The Interpreter of Maladies. More recently Neel Patel’s If You See Me, Don’t Say Hi also earned the distinction of becoming New York Times Book Review’s Editor’s Choice and NPR Best Book of the year. Swamy’s collection although firmly rooted in the tradition of diasporic South Asian American writing is charting new and unexplored territory.

What distinguishes Swamy’s collection is the persistent presence of trauma, loss, female vulnerability, and fulfillment in a transnational and transhistorical contexts.

While some stories like the last one in the collection “Night Garden,” invoke a very specific geographic landscape, others like “The Siege” and “Earthly Pleasures” seem to flow effortlessly between the genres of realism, mythology, and magical realism.

In “Earthly Pleasures” Swamy plays with the theme of unrequited love of a lonely female artist for a celebrity named Krishna, invoking the myth structuring the Bhakti tradition of India: Radha’s love for her divine and unattainable lover, Krishna. This unrequited love gets replayed in the medieval poet/ devotee Mira’s longing for Krishna which produces a flowering of her poetry. Similarly, Krishna is an earthly pleasure for Swamy’s protagonist Radhika and also her creative muse and obsession.

In “The Seige” Swamy weaves a story that resembles an Indian fable where an old queen is abandoned by her husband and loses her sons in battle.  This story may be read entirely as a fable, a throwback to an earlier pre-modern, feudal world of female victimhood, but it connects thematically to several other stories of spousal abandonment in contemporary North America. For example, “The Laughter Artist” and the title story “The House is a Body” as well as the final story “Night Garden” dwell on themes of husbands leaving their wives, sometimes on the abyss of despair and destruction. In both these stories, the husband or male partner who has left is a shadowy, indeterminate presence, but the effects of this abandonment are registered on the traumatized family.

In “The House is a Body,” the abandoned wife goes through the distracted motions of caring for a sick daughter whose skin is burning with fever, even as a wild California forest fire forces her to pack the detritus of her broken life and memories as she waits to get rescued, while almost succumbing to a desire to be destroyed by the fire.

In “Night Garden,” we witness a woman’s bond with her dog who protects her home from the attack of a cobra, holding steadfast to his task of guarding the home over the course of a night. The implicit comparison is evoked between the loyalty of the woman’s animal companion juxtaposed with the fickleness of her human partner who has abandoned her.

Swamy’s exploration of loss is not limited only to the loss of romantic love. In some stories, she touches on the loss of children or the loss of parents. In “Mourners,” a young infant is barely aware of the trauma of the loss of her mother which is being processed by her father and aunt. In “Didi,” in a rare moment of grasping his daughter’s fears, a father reveals to her the loss of her older brother in gestation. Even more unfathomable is the loss of a brother in “My Brother at the Station,” where a sister stalks her brother’s ghostly presence from the station to an apartment, only to realize that she could not cross the threshold and do her parents’ bidding and “beg him to return home.”  Sometimes, the elegiac quality of loss changes to the more jagged depiction of domestic violence registered on the bodies of women, in “Neighbors,” hidden by sense of shame and not acknowledged by other women even when revealed.

The most joyful story in this collection is “Wedding Season.” which is an unabashed celebration of a lesbian relationship between a South Asian woman and her white female partner who are attending a heterosexual wedding in India. Even though they have not come out to their families, they revel in their surreptitious intimacy interspersed among the wedding rituals.

Swamy is masterful in her use of spare prose to evoke the most harrowing psychological experiences. Her stories span a variety of styles and genres from realism to mythic representations. Reading her stories is akin to reading poetry or entering into a dream state. Her characters seem sometimes to be indistinguishable from story to story.  They are not sufficiently varied and sometimes seem unidimensional in their experiences as survivors of trauma. Swamy is skillful in depicting characters on the brink of psychological collapse, but she rarely provides any experiences that offset their abjectness. Perhaps in the future, we will see more of her satiric commentary and sly humor which is offered fleetingly in “Wedding Season.”

The India Currents team is filled with pride to see Shruti Swamy’s burgeoning career after her time with IC and is here to cultivate the next generation of writers. Reach out to editor@indiacurrents.com if you’d like to work or intern with India Currents!


Lopamudra Basu is a professor of English at the University of Wisconsin-Stout. She grew up in Calcutta and currently lives in Eau Claire, Wisconsin.

Kashmir in Pain Before Article 370

Featured Image: Wailing mother of Faizan Fayaz hugs the best friend of her slain son. Faizan was killed in a firing by security forces on a polling day for Srinagar Lok Sabha Constituency in  Budgam district on April 9, 2017. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Bilal Ahmad, a freelance photojournalist from Kashmir, scrolls down the screen full of images he has clicked so far as part of his work. In his fourth-floor flat in Delhi’s Noor Nagar, he opens an image and looks at it for quite a while, as if reminded of the scene and the story behind it.

Taking his eyes off the screen, the 24-year-old photojournalist from Kashmir says, “My aim is to acquaint people around the world with the ground realities of Kashmir, most importantly, the hopelessness of a common man.”

However, Bilal’s aim hit a dead end when Narendra Modi-led government in New Delhi imposed a blanket ban on Internet and telecom services in Kashmir a night before it revoked its special status on August 5, 2019, one year ago. The state was divided into two union territories: Jammu and Kashmir, and Ladakh.

Article 370, which the central government scrapped on August 5, granted the state some autonomy. The erstwhile state had its own constitution, flag, and could make its own laws.

“I lower my head in disappointment when I see the people whose stories I had captured with my camera but couldn’t publish,” Bilal laments.  

Out of thousands of pictures on his laptop, Bilal has kept six of them in a separate folder named ‘Best’. He agrees to share these pictures, how he clicked them, the stories in them.

“It was after Faizan’s funeral I clicked this picture,” Bilal tells me. “There was a huge crowd of people gathered outside slain Faizan’s house. I saw women and children crying and sobbing. Amid those mourning voices, one particular voice was louder and longer,” he pauses. “It was that of Faizan’s mother in the house. I made my way into the room, though with difficulty, and found her surrounded by other women weeping and trying to console the bereaved mother. She felt suffocated and was escorted out in the open. A couple of women held her and helped her walk round in the garden. But she was still sighing and sobbing. Soon, she saw her son’s best friend coming in. She rushed to him, hugged him tightly, and cried even louder. She kept repeatedly asking him, ‘Bring back my son. You left together in the morning after coming back from Madrassa. Why have you returned alone?’ I was already in tears and did not want to click any pictures. However, I ended up channelizing my emotions into bringing her pain in my frame and do my job,” concluded the photojournalist about the picture.

The next click brings us to a group of people attending the funeral prayers of Adil Ahmad at Eidgah, Srinagar. Adil was an eighteen-year-old boy, who was mowed down by an armed forces vehicle in Chattabal area of Srinagar during intense clashes between protesters and government forces on May 5, 2018.

“It is very intriguing,” says Bilal, “to see children take part in the funerals, which sometimes erupt in fierce clashes with the government forces. They easily become targets of tear gas canisters, pellets and sometimes even get killed by bullets fired by the men in uniform. This isn’t what a child should experience. These things have a long-lasting effect on one’s psyche and take shape of nightmares as you come of age.”

C:\Users\Bilal Ahmad\Desktop\Best\3.jpeg
Funeral prayers of Adil Ahmad. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Amongst the turmoil, Bilal tried to capture moments of calm in Kashmir.

“It was getting chaotic after Friday prayers in Srinagar’s Soura area as youth and paramilitary forces were about to clash with each other,” recalls Bilal.

“The man in the photo was playing with his son inside his shop until he heard a loud bang of tear-gas canister fired at the protesting youth a few hundred meters away. He started panicking, grabbed his son, and came outside.”

C:\Users\Bilal Ahmad\Desktop\Best\5.jpeg
A father fixedly looks at his son, who enjoys a packet of snacks outside a shuttered shop in Soura on the outskirts of Srinagar. PC: Bilal Ahmad

“His son, however, proved to be stubborn and was refusing to leave the shop. The father hurriedly tore off a packet of snacks from a rope of many hanging inside the shop and brought down the shutter. The clashes were yet to turn violent and the shopkeeper let go his son sit on the other end of the shop, while he kept a close eye on him and around.”

C:\Users\Bilal Ahmad\Desktop\Best\6.JPG
Nusrat reflecting on losing her eyesight. PC: Bilal Ahmad

Nusrat Jan, a 32-year-old mother of a two-year-old daughter lost her sight in the right eye after she was hit by pellets fired by government forces during intense clashes October 17, 2018 near Srinagar.

The pellet injury left a void in my heart. Now, I can see my daughter only with my left eye,” recants Nusrat.

“It seemed a tough battle for the two-year-old baby girl to see glasses on her mother’s eyes,” Bilal tells me with a heavy heart. “She tried repeatedly to remove them, probably, to see her eyes, but her mother would not let her as she kept feeding her,” he says and is reminded of what the woman in the picture told him then.

Present Day

Here in Kashmir, I caught up with Bilal again after almost 8 months since our meeting in Delhi. During this time, Bilal says, Journalists in Kashmir have been through a lot. “One is scared to work under these circumstances, especially when you see your colleagues being questioned, beaten, detained, and booked under draconian laws such as UAPA (Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act). See, what happened with photojournalist Masarat Zahra,” says Bilal.

Masrat, a Kashmir-based freelance photojournalist was booked under UAPA by J and K Police for allegedly sharing “anti-national posts”. Masrat, however, denied such charges and said that these posts were part of her professional work, some of which had already been published.

Bilal is also worried about the new Media Policy which the Jammu and Kashmir administration unveiled on June 2. “It has added to the difficulties that we as journalists were already facing,” informs Bilal, resigned to his circumstance. He hopes change will come soon…

Younis Ahmad Kaloo is a freelance journalist based in Kashmir. Previously, he was a correspondent at Force Newsmagazine, a monthly magazine on national security and aerospace.

Aberration: Chapter 1

This story is published once a month as part of the column – Legends of Quintessence – which interacts with Sci-Fi in a South Asian context. 

Chapter 1: Coming of Age

Sneha lay wide awake as she looked out at the skylight. She hated the view of the stars from the building on the most primitive planet – Earth. She was stuck in a  planet used only for low-grade research, while the colonies thrived across the superclusters. Outside, some of the researchers sat and told stories of their travels. She marveled at how they felt no guilt, no remorse at holding her hostage.

She was surrounded by her family – almost 3000 other Snehas –  but she knew very well that she was not home. She envied the ones that had either perished or moved to another planet for experiments. They were free, she was trapped…  

She jumped up and paced around her room and stopped momentarily to peek at her mother’s picture on the wall. Tomorrow she would turn 23 – the same age when her mother donated her DNA for cloning experiments. As fate would have it, it was that batch of cells that led to successful, multiplicative cloning without errors. Her mother had been one of the most celebrated scientists of her time. Yet, here she was, just another number with no future and no permission to dream! She felt more restless than she had ever felt before. 

Sneha and the other clones had been designed and genetically altered and re-altered to follow orders. But in her case, somewhere between frozen cells and an acceleration incubator, nature had taken over. She was different! 

Sneha had known since she was an infant, sparked by moments of joy, resentment, excitement, and doubt. Soon after, overwhelmed by despair and anger and the will to be free. But she had her mother’s brains and knew she had to hide these emotions. No aberrations in clone samples were tolerated and she would be terminated if anyone were to know.

Laser focus on quality research had enabled humans to develop amazing vaccines against cosmic pathogens. It had also led to horrible deaths for many clones along the way. But they were just numbers, a homogeneous mass of experimental bodies that were dispensable to propel cosmic exploration. Her thoughts kept drifting as she slowly fell asleep.

The next morning she opened her eyes to the same dreary cell and remembered she was now 23. She turned to the screen in her room and realized that today they were prepping a batch of clones for travel to test new enhancement drugs against radiation damage. As she entered the dining area, she overheard that the new batch would travel to a newly discovered positron cloud. She felt her heart racing at the idea. She could just imagine herself on a ship deck approaching the ominous cloud.

She quickly snapped out of her dream. As she sat down to eat, she looked around at all the Snehas surrounding her.

Sn45XT34. That was her number.

They were all given numbers so that humans could identify them. She could tell each one of them apart but somehow humans could not handle the complexity of uniquely identifying clones in large groups.

The clones that would travel were huddled in one corner of the dining area with instructions. 

Her eye suddenly caught Sn45XT87 looking odd. She looked pale and her eyes were furtively looking at the guards across the room. Sneha watched her and realized that XT87 was panicking. That was odd…was she another aberration? Her mind was thinking fast. She realized XT87 was starting to choke …She got up and dashed towards her. She took off her number tag from her shirt as she ran. She shouted as XT87 fell to the ground “Move away from her, she might be infected” and immediately all the other clones moved away. She reached XT87 quickly and put her hands on her chest and started pumping. Deftly, she removed XT87’s tag and replaced it with her own. As she pressed the tag to the shirt she realized her heart had stopped beating: XT87 was dead! She looked at the guards and said simply “XT34 is not responding it seems”.

As she walked away to find XT87’s room, her head was trying to recall all the tests they could perform on XT87’s limp body. Her gait was nervous as her mind frantically played everything that could go wrong from here. Once inside the room, she closed the door and cried miserably, muffling her sobs. She felt like a criminal. A novice lawbreaker with a conscience! And now, all she could do was wait. Wait for what would happen next…

Read Chapter 2 HERE!


Rachna Dayal has an M.Sc. in Electrical Engineering and an MBA from IMD. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt comfortable challenging traditional norms that prohibit growth or equality. She lives in New Jersey with her family and loves music, traveling, and imagining the future.

Legends of Quintessence: Introduction

Legends of Quintessence (LoQ) is a new science fiction column that India Currents is introducing to cater to the varied tastes of our readers. This column will entertain you with science fiction short stories, introduce you to South Asian talent, and on occasion, invite you to showcase your own skills and imagination through the column. 

Author, Rachna Dayal

The author of this new column, Rachna Dayal, is a strong believer that science fiction lays the groundwork for future discoveries by providing an outlook for inventors to uncover. She, herself, works jobs heavily influenced by innovation and strategy. By day, she is the Global Director for Strategic Programs at Johnson and Johnson, and by night, she uses the same skills to unleash her imagination and pour them into her Science Fiction narratives.

Rachna finds that writing Sci-Fi provides a satisfying outlet to theoretical inquiries, transcending dimensions of reason, and challenging traditional norm. She is a strong advocate of diversity and inclusion and has always felt Science Fiction to be a comfortable place to explore that. 

Dayal has introduced the South Asian lens to storytelling by giving her voice to Sci-Fi and has moved one step further. The featured image accompanying this article is created by NYC-based South Asian artist, Hanifa Hameed, and commissioned by Rachna. Desi touches begin to remove the racial barriers that may have limited readership. Stay tuned for an interview the Hanifa and her artwork, hosted by India Currents, in the near future.

The name of the column, Legends of Quintessence, is founded in the idea of the fifth element – one that cannot be seen. It is beyond Earth, Air, Water, and Fire. The term, Quintessence, is layered by the definition cosmologists give it. It is believed to be a unique form of matter distinct from normal or dark matter and has peculiar characteristics. According to them, Quintessence is the reason why the expansion of universe has accelerated.

Legends of Quintessence will be mystical – a perfect blend of science and imagination unbounded by the burden of proof or convention! Science belongs to the universe but science fiction feels so quintessentially human. That is until we discover that outer-worldly species also indulge in the activity of producing science fiction…

Expect the unexpected and embark on the intergalactic journey with us next Monday, August 3, 2020!

Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.