Tag Archives: #southasianwriter

Left to right: Avni Doshi and her book, Girl In White Cotton.

Avni Doshi’s Uncomfortable Truths

“How many times must a performance be repeated before it becomes reality? If a falsehood is enacted enough, does it begin to sound factual? Is a pathway created for lies to become true in the brain? Does the illogical eventually get integrated with the rational?”

Avni Doshi’s acclaimed debut novel Girl in White Cotton (HarperCollins, 2020), a story about a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship, makes for a somewhat beautiful, disturbing read – evocative stories mingled with love-hate emotions. Born in New Jersey, Doshi is an American novelist of Indian origin currently based in Dubai. Equipped with a BA in Art History from Barnard College, New York, and a Masters in History of Art from University College, London, she went on to win the Tibor Jones South Asia Prize in 2013 and the Charles Pick Fellowship at the University of East Anglia the following year.

Having suffered at her hands as a child, Antara is resentful towards her unconventional mother, Tara. Throughout her life, her mother always ran away from anything that felt like oppression – marriage, diets, medical diagnoses. When her mother begins to lose her memory to Alzheimer’s, Antara is faced with the reality of her situation and is forced to confront the truths of her past and present.

As her mother undergoes therapy, Antara traces her tumultuous life – right from her years of teenage rebellion to her unsuccessful marriage, love affair, and subsequent deterioration – seeking to understand what made her do the things she did, and its repercussions on Antara’s perceptions, complexes, and insecurities that she carried into her own adulthood. Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020, the book is written in Antara’s first-person and reads throughout like an intimate, personal diary. While its tone is mostly easy and conversational, its subject matter is intense, often draining.

For some of her most crucial, formative years, Antara lived with her mother in an ashram, when the latter found her way out of the loneliness and boredom of her marital home by devoting herself to a guru. It was here that she perpetually began wearing a white cotton fabric as the means to her truth: “a blank slate where she could remake herself and find the path to freedom.” 

Mental health is on the tip of our tongues these days, and it certainly makes up one of the central themes in this book. The prose is routinely sprinkled with several pearls of wisdom, such as “miscommunications emerge from mislaid certainty,” “intention and reception almost never find each other,” and “caregivers need care too.” In a sense, the story also brings out the significance of good parenting and the fact that painful experiences during one’s impressionable childhood can haunt and scar an individual for life. 

The book also has a strong sense of place. The sights, sounds, and smells of Pune make a powerful backdrop to the story and waft right through its pages. Along the way, there are references to well-known city spots such as the historical Shaniwar Wada fortress, MG Road, Boat Club Road, as well as several bars, cafes, and restaurants, such as Kayani Bakery, the Poona Club, and the German Bakery on North Main Road (which was bombed in 2010). 


Neha Kirpal is a freelance writer and editor based in New Delhi. She is the author of ‘Wanderlust for the Soul’ and ‘Bombay Memory Box’.


 

13-Year-Old Abhimanyu Sukhdial’s Novel Sparks Climate Change Dialogues

“Stillwater is a great place to raise a family,” is the common refrain I heard from several Indian aunties at the small Holi dinner party I attended the year I moved to Oklahoma. I had gotten married just a few months earlier at a memorable wedding in Delhi, and with great anticipation, I left the familiar surroundings of the San Francisco Bay Area I had called home for almost 30 years to start a new life in a new state, in a small university town nestled in the middle of wide-open fields and country farms.   

Within a year, my husband, a marketing professor at Oklahoma State University, and I welcomed our first son, Abhimanyu (Abhi).  My parents flew out from the Bay Area for the blessed occasion. As I watched my parents cradle and cuddle their new grandchild, I thought of how they took care of me as a child in Tamil Nadu, how they instilled in me the values of hard work and a good education, and most importantly, how they effortlessly bridged two cultures to educate and raise two daughters in this country.  “What kind of mother will I be?” I wondered.

I once read, “We all can dance when we find music we love.”  

And for Abhi, that love was for words.  You know those magnetic A-Z letters kids put on the fridge? During our annual summer vacations in Meerut (a bustling city outside of Delhi where my in-laws live), Abhi spent hours moving, rotating, and repositioning those letters on the special dhurrie Dadi ma had laid out for him, making a lot of nonsense words and a few real ones. Soon, he started reading, and then, writing his first stories. School programs like the National PTA Reflections Arts-in-Education competition fueled his creative ambitions; starting in 2nd grade, he wrote and submitted a short story every year, advancing through local and state rounds of competition.  They were mostly fantastical adventure stories, not unlike the Enid Blyton stories I had read growing up.  

When Abhi learned that a fellow student had made a short film for the competition and that it had won at the national level, Abhi was adamant he could do the same. During that summer in India, he taught himself iMovie and figured out how to program a cute robot called Sphero so he could shoot his first five-minute film featuring a “robot detective” called Monsieur Sphero (a mischievous take on Agatha Christie’s famous sleuth, Monsieur Poirot). He was thrilled when his movie was selected for a national award.  

When Abhi was 11, we discovered Stone Soup Magazine, a literary magazine for kids 14 years and under, that offers both a monthly print edition as well as an online blog section.  Over the next two years, he became a regular blogger, writing book and movie reviews. The countless hours he spent debating his younger brother about the pros and cons of Star Wars helped shape the analytical skills and power of persuasion he needed to structure and write the reviews.  

Book, Three Days Till EOC.

In 2019, Stone Soup announced their first annual book competition, and Abhi decided to go for it. He wanted to write a sci-fi story and started coming up with ideas, determined to write the book during our summer vacation in Meerut. In India, he saw a segment on cable news about the severe drought in Chennai and it piqued his interest. Why not combine science fiction and climate change in a unique way? 

That was the spark for his 70-page novella set in the year 2100 called Three Days Till EOC.  It is a story of climate scientist Graham Alison, who literally has three days to save civilization before a catastrophic cyclone threatens to destroy the planet.  It is also a story about how small choices can lead to big changes – how a positive action we take today to stop climate change can result in a better world for our children, our children’s children, and generations after. We liked the idea, encouraged him to write the first draft, and then gave him feedback so he could continue to revise and improve his story over the next two months. Finally, he submitted it and was surprised and ecstatic when he learned that his book had won 1st place and would be published in September 2020. Since the book’s publication, Abhi has participated in various TV/newspaper interviews and made presentations to youth in the local Indian American community.

Abhi will turn 13 this month, and in a blink of an eye, he will soon be leaving for college.  Like all parents, we wonder if we are doing enough to prepare our kids for this increasingly complex, fast-changing world.  We hope that by giving them the freedom to play with and pursue their creative passions from a young age, that they will grow up to be hard-working, resilient, confident individuals who will contribute their talents in some way to make this world a better place.   As a parent, there’s no greater legacy I can think of leaving behind.

Three Days Till EOC is the Young Adult Fiction Honoree for the 2021 Green Earth Book Award.


Anu Sukhdial is Abhimanyu Sukhdial’s mother. She is a Bay Area transplant living in Oklahoma.


 

California: The Cure

Legends of Quintessence – a Science Fiction column with a South Asian twist. 

Chapter 1

In a tiny house by the outskirts of Fresno, the morning was very quiet. Twenty years ago such a lull would be constantly interrupted by the swoosh, swoosh, swoosh of the windmills. Today, the windmill farm had been replaced by an energy farm that used a combination of solar fields and wind tunnels to maximize energy output. Quiet, efficient, and as ugly as could be. This stretch of California had stayed virtually untouched by the development frenzy that had gripped the state for as long as one could remember. 

The silence was broken by the phone

She jumped at the sound. 

Her hands shook as she picked up the phone, not saying anything. 

“Ms. Sana?”

“Yes, who are you?” 

“I am Vink Bhatia from the Center for Disease Prevention: CDP. We are calling from the Richmond center. We would like to call you in for a meeting to advise us.” 

She panicked, trying to breathe normally, “Do I have to come? My case is closed and I have not been involved with the CDP for 26 years now. I have no new information or anything for that matter.”

“No ma’am,” said Vink “We need your help. We have no other hope for what is staring us in the face. Please come and see us this afternoon and I will explain everything.” 

Once she put the phone down, she sobbed fiercely as all the memories she had suppressed came flooding back. 

Twenty-eight years ago, she had graduated from Strafford University, ready to save the world through research on vaccines. She joined the Center for Disease Prevention (CDP) Research Center to work on the development of vaccines for targeted assignments. It was the perfect time to be in a perfect world. The political upheaval of ten years ago was far behind and they finally had a president that came from California.

A woman of mixed ancestral background was voted into Presidency and led the country to financial success and stability through her political tact and focus on science, international relationships, and trade. It was just as well since the world was moving faster towards space exploration and travel. All eyes were shifting from regional and national boundaries to planetary and galactic boundaries.

She joined the team headed by Professor Braun. Her work was a combination of genetic engineering and cloning to develop vaccines. What had become clear to space agencies and companies contracting space missions was that, without vaccines that could trigger the immune system to mirror and overpower microbes in space, humans would be defenseless. In the last two years, there had been seven outbreaks of diseases brought back to Earth by space travelers. They had been hard to contain and three of them had had very sad conclusions with entire communities being quarantined till they were wiped out. Never had the CDP felt the heat like it did then.

The whole world unanimously agreed on the need for accelerated research to develop potent vaccines to protect humanity. Money poured into top research institutes and whole departments sprung like wild mushrooms in monsoon. There was enough funding to last for decades of research and development. 

Chapter 2

She worked on some very bizarre and strange microbes that took a lot of effort to clone, control, and conduct tests on. More than once she and her team had to quarantine themselves, as they worked to contain the aggressive multiplication of microbes.

The worst were the ones that came from the outer asteroid belt beyond the solar system. That part of the belt was where space mining companies really wanted to go for expensive and rare elements. The outer belt was rich in both elements and pathogens due to the increased gravitational forces in that part of the galaxy. 

In her line of work, she would often assist astronauts, lifting planetary dust off of their gear before they went into the sterilization chambers. She knew the frequent travelers by name and they joked and shared stories each time they met her.

This winter when Salas came back he was hurt. The official story was that his communication link with base had snapped due to a magnetic storm and a tiny piece of asteroid debris had hit him with moderate speed. When they were alone she looked at him, “Hey man, this time you lost it”, she said as she winked with a smile.

Salas looked up and she recognized the fear in his face.

“Can you shut off the recording for a couple of minutes?” he said.

”What’s up?” she was puzzled and not taking her eyes off him as she used suction to lift off the dirt from his clothes into five separate partitions within the sampler.

“I need to tell someone. They told me on the base not to say a word. But someone has to know …they may be coming to earth?” He paused and then looked up at her, pleading with tears in his eyes, ”Please, can you just give me five minutes?”

She paused and then turned the room to reclaim mode: they had seven minutes before all processes would kick back on, including monitoring and recording. She knew she would have to sign tons of paperwork and instantly regretted doing it. 

Salas gripped her hand and started blurting, “They know that there is some form of life in the outer asteroid belt. They have known for a long time and are hiding it. They have destroyed evidence many times.”

“Hang on there buddy, who’s they, and what kind of life?” Now she was genuinely interested, even if Salas had gone completely cuckoo.

“The mining companies…They think that they understand the aliens and that they can control them. They do not want to abandon the asteroid belts. I met him”, he paused, “I met it while leaving Base 3, which is at the remote end and is not manned. It was flowing fast and at first, I thought it was a gas cloud but then it hit my shoulder here”, he said showing the back of his right shoulder. “It was hard as a rock and I fell off and I reached out with my gun. I must have hurt it since I felt deep vibrations through my organs and then it flowed away very fast.” 

“Look at my suit here,” said Salas, pointing to a part on his right side that had a splatter of grey almost rock-solid matter. “I think this came out of it”

She jumped up at his confession. Did he mean that he had alien microbes on his suit?

“Don’t move,” she said urgently and reached for a mini sampler and scooped up the hard substance from his suit. “Salas, who else knows about this?” she asked.

“The controllers on Base 2. I told them about the encounter and they did not seem surprised at all. Instead, they told me to not tell anyone, else they would come after me”.

She told him to take some time off to rest and get his nerves back and promised to not tell anyone. 

Chapter 3

She did not report the alien matter as she should have. She worked on it on her own. She divided the amount into two equal halves and experimented with one half – attacking it with earth microbes to see how they would impact the defense mechanisms of the alien matter.

She used the second half to develop immuno-adaptive vaccines for humans when attacked by microbes from the alien mass. She worked non-stop, knowing that there was no end to the greed of the mining companies. Very soon Earth would be facing aliens without knowing if they were friend or foe.

She wanted to be ready…for people, for humanity…for a future where Earth could protect itself against the aliens that mining companies were aggravating.  

Completely unaware of what was happening in parallel, she worked on her own and was able to create the two medical safeguards with which she could arm the world if the need arose. She was almost done and had to conduct the last tests for replication and vaccine stability.

“Just a couple of days more,” she said to herself as she entered her lab on that fateful day.

They were waiting for her at the lab entrance. They had quarantined her work and she was escorted to a remote intelligence location. During her interrogation, she realized that Salas had cracked and told his team leader that she had taken alien matter from his suit. When she asked what happened to Salas, they gave her blank looks. She knew then what could happen to her. But if she told them everything, there would be no hope for humanity.

No matter what happened to her, she would not tell.

She had stored her work in two places by then. One, in the lab where her tests had failed, and the other where the vaccines had worked. She gave up the location of samples where the vaccines had worked on alien mass. She did not tell them the location of the molecules that had the potential to invade alien mass. She was not going to give up the last line of defense! 

They made an example out of her for the other researchers, calling her a traitor for developing vaccines to protect aliens. Her trial and sentencing was one-sided, military, swift, and ruthless. Eleven years in a military prison in Kansas and they ensured that they found every reason to throw her into solitary confinement as often as possible.

She imagined during these spells that she was the trunk of a twisted old tree, with each solitary confinement increasing her rings. Her branches held the weight of future children that wanted the freedom to be born. And close to her roots lay Salas in a resting position. She would often comfort him and let him know that it was ok.

“You have done your part. You can rest. I am the one that failed and my branches feel heavy with this burden.”

On release, she was only allowed to work non-medical, low-income jobs. She chose to be a hairstylist. Given her record, the only place that employed her was a minimum wage salon in Fresno. Routine: wake up, breakfast, get to work, end at 8 pm, back home, eat and sleep. 7 days a week including Christmas and New Year. It kept her sane, it kept her going for 16 years until the phone rang that morning. 

Chapter 4

She opened the door before the bell rang and walked to the car they had sent for her. The 3 hours drive was heavy with silence and she kept imagining in her mind again and again what awaited her at the CDP. As she stepped into the CDP building, a flood of memories hit her and she shivered involuntarily.

A man standing inside came rapidly to her and dragged her away by her arm to a room in the back of the two-story building.

“I am Vink,” he said as he hastily seated her in a chair.

She nodded, “What do you want?”

“You were experimenting on alien matter and developing vaccines for it?” 

She felt her anger rising, “I was not. I have served a long sentence for a crime that I never committed.”

“Oh, you don’t understand?” he said, “ We will need your help now. The mining companies have been exploiting the outer asteroid belt for a very long. We did not know that they were aware that some of these asteroids hosted an alien form of life that can survive in very harsh conditions. A lifeform so evolved that they can move from being fluid to hard as rock. When they die, they become a rock, almost unrecognizable as a living form.”.

He took out some pictures and showed her, “Look, here is one in the process of transforming from a solid rock form to fluid.” 

“So what do you want from me?”

Vink looked at her, “They are sick of being driven out of their homes and have entered earth using our own spaceships. Earlier, we thought that we had managed to contain them within the transportation base, but news from across California and Texas has me convinced that they are out there in these states.”

“Did you guys keep my experiments and materials in my lab?” She jumped up, “We will need to find it back and I need you to give me a lab and any alien mass you might have collected from the transportation base.”

“What had you developed besides what we found?” asked Vink.

“Well….you see some of Earth’s microbes can cause a lot of damage to them and are hard to create vaccines against. How many types do we have?” she motioned. 

“We have three types: two from combinations of flu and a very old skin plague against which all humans today have immunity and one that impacts their external layer”, Vink replied.

“Let’s work with the two combinations and forget the skin diseases…we need lethal diseases, not tame ones.” She stopped and turned sharply to him, “You don’t understand do you?” Vink stared at her.

“Look, they are able to change their form from fluid to solid by diffusing liquids and gases. But when they have to change from solid to fluid form they need to absorb these gases through their outer layer. If that outer layer malfunctions, they can no longer change back to fluid form and are rendered immobile. That is when we can infect them with our microbes”. 

“Stop staring at me and let’s get to work. We have a lot to do…first I will need to replicate these microbes at a mass scale and once we have done that we will need to distribute the vaccines as well,” she said, exasperated. 

Vink looked excited and confused at the same time, “We have not been able to develop vaccines yet. We are working on it but need more time. I am afraid we will lose some people but we are looking to quarantine the two states if needed.”

She looked up from the table and spoke slowly as a matter of fact, “Yes, I know that. I have the vaccine ready. I had it ready before they took me to prison. All we need to do is mass produce it.”

Vink sat down and took a few moments to absorb this. “So you did? Where did you?…They sent you to prison…And all the time you were….”

She stood up restlessly, “Vink, take me to a lab. We can’t waste time chatting!”


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.

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.

Each of Us Killers: Vignettes of Immigrant and Indian Lives

Jenny Bhatt’s debut collection of stories, Each of Us Killers brings us a sampling of experiences of a writer who has lived and worked in India, the United Kingdom, Germany, and now resides in a suburb of Dallas. Bhatt has worked as a writer, literary critic, and translator. Her translation of the Gujarati writer Dhumketu’s fiction is forthcoming from Harper Collins in India.  She is also the host of the podcast Desi Books. Each of Us Killers is Bhatt’s debut collection of short stories but several of these stories have been published in reputed journals; two of the stories were nominated for the Pushcart award, and the title story “ Each of Us Killers” was nominated for the Best American Short Stories, 2018. These biographical facts help to contextualize the experience of reading Bhatt’s collection of stories. Even though it is a debut collection, it brings a range of lived experience, experimentation, and stylistic variety, which announces a seasoned practitioner rather than a newcomer to fiction. Another important fact to note is that Bhatt’s publisher, 7.13 Books is an independent publisher, one that is likely to promote authors whose subjects and aesthetics are different from the mainstream presses, increasingly dominated by five major corporations in the publishing industry.

Bhatt’s collection portrays the complexity of immigrants’ lives but is equally at ease in offering vignettes from life in Indian cities. Unlike many diasporic writers whose representations of India seem dated because they draw on memories of India left behind several decades ago, Bhatt’s stories seem to resonate deeply with contemporary realities in India, particularly its uptick in religious and caste-based violence. The last two stories in the collection “The Waiting” and “Each of Us Killers” depicts the continuing everyday oppression faced by Dalits in India.

“The Waiting” is narrated through the voice of the ghost of a dead Dalit wife witnessing the continuing sufferings of her distraught and mentally unhinged husband. By the end of the story, the voice changes to that of the ghost of her husband in limbo after his brutal murder by the henchmen of the village sarpanch. While this story adopts the conventions of vernacular folk ghost narratives, the title story “Each of Us Killers” takes the form of investigative journalism exploring the reasons for the death of a Dalit man by consuming a bottle of acid. The investigation uncovers the brutal burning alive of a Dalit girl which is the catalyst for the brother’s suicide and the traumatic memory that ravages the community. This story is particularly poignant in the wake of continuing Dalit violence in India today, the most recent example of which is the rape, murder, and hurried cremation of Manisha Valmiki in Haathras. 

The violence unleashed on vulnerable groups is a trope that emerges even in stories set in the United States. The first story of the collection “Return to India” also takes the form of interviews that a police officer conducts in the process of investigating the death of a South Asian American man. The quotidian details of his life emerge from the testimonies of his office acquaintances, his unfurnished bare apartment, his occasional drinking binges, the loneliness following his divorce leading to the final testimony by the guy who shot him in what appears to be a drunken altercation fueled by casual xenophobia and easy access to firearms. Bhatt is gesturing at the precarious nature of immigrant lives in the xenophobic climate of Trump’s America.

Not all the stories in the collection evoke the tragic sensibility of the first and last stories in the volume. Some like “Disappointment,” and “Life Spring” turn disappointment in love into paths for liberation and growth.  In others, like “Separation Notice.”  Bhatt playfully rewrites Hindu mythology by crafting a letter terminating the services of Lord Vishnu for his inability to serve as protector of mankind. Bhatt is attentive to the multi-religious diversity of Indian citizens and offers a glimpse into the life and troubles of an aging Muslim food vendor in “Time and Opportunity,” whose young employee from his own community is stealing his profits. In “Neeru’s New World,” Bhatt seems to be depicting the tragic fate of a young maid in a rich household about to be blackmailed or sexually exploited when the story reverses course and the young girl is able to secure an ally to help her break free from the power of her oppressor.

The collection is rich in its exploration of socio-economic issues.  It also effortlessly experiments with a variety of forms like the ghost story, investigative journalism, retelling of myths, among others. As is inevitable in a collection like this some stories are more powerful than others, but overall this is a thought-provoking collection that successfully evokes diverse milieux and prompts readers towards an empathetic understanding of topics beyond the immediate familiarity of urban bourgeois life.


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.

Each of Us Killers: Stories by Jenny Bhatt.  7.13 Books Brooklyn, September 2020.

A Purple Lotus Blooms From the Darkness

Empowered” is a gutsy and gritty adjective that some women have the luxury of being heralded with. But do all these women set out to be “empowered” or do circumstances simply tread them along a trailblazing path, which perhaps was the only path available to them, towards something as basic as self-preservation? 

Author Veena Rao, in her debut novel Purple Lotus, unravels the journey of one such woman, who embarks on a seemingly normal journey but is forced to summon her inner strength as she plunges into valleys of anguish, to eventually elevate herself to summits of triumph. 

Purple Lotus unfolds the life and times of protagonist Tara, much like the title flower that rises from the mud, blooms out of the darkness, and radiates into the world, in a soothing tone of absolute resolve to remain unaffected by the sludge that surrounds her.

The choice of the title plays quite a pronounced role throughout the narrative, both literally and symbolically. Tara, the lotus (literal translation), finds herself in muddy waters right from the get-go, when her beloved doll, Pinky, goes missing during the family’s move to Mangalore. Even as she bears the brunt of missing her friends and her priced doll, she watches in helplessness as her parents move to Dubai in pursuit of a bright future for the family, leaving behind Tara with her aging grandparents and a schizophrenic uncle in Mangalore, while taking her baby brother with them. 

Amidst desolation, Tara ironically finds solace from her uncle in his moments of clarity when his mind is not bogged down by the disease. Tara even finds love in its warmest of forms in Cyrus Saldanha, only to be forced to let go when her parents return to Mangalore.

Rao submerges Tara in more of life’s slush in the form of Sanjay. The seed of abandonment seeped into Tara’s being at a tender age reaps its bounty as she is bound in a loveless and abusive marriage with Sanjay, a groom her parents picked for her, mostly because she was getting beyond the “marriageable” age and he was willing to marry without any bridal dowry (gifts). Her trials continue to mount as Sanjay’s indifference gradually turns into violence and Tara is forced to accept the kindness of American strangers to fight Sanjay, only to be pressured by her patriarchal family to make peace with her circumstances. 

Tara begins to bloom, when, in a moment of truth, she discovers the prominence of her own esteem and worth, turning towards the light, setting herself free from conforms of her community as she reconnects and eventually marries her childhood love, Cyrus.

The journalist in Rao shines through in the last chapter as she wraps up the novel with a fitting “article” by Tara that confronts a victim-shaming society. “Not all monsters are egregious. Some stay hidden in plain sight,” writes Rao’s Tara, pointing to not just to the perpetrators of crime against women, but also a spiteful society in general and a venomous close circle of the victim, in particular, that crushes the victim’s spirits, driving them into a deeper abyss of despair. 

Purple Lotus, an emblem of peace of tranquility, maintains a calm undertone throughout, staying faithful to its symbolic title. The wave of calm is evident in many instances, such as the incident where Tara forgives a friend who intentionally hurt her in childhood, when the friend admits it was her fault, despite the immense pain it had caused her at the time. Rao’s strength in writing is her ability to maintain the mellow milieu even as she powerfully propagates empowerment, confronts social stigmas, and deals with deeply disturbing feelings of dejection, rejection, and desertion with grace and poignance. Rao scores extra brownie points for the character development of Tara and her ensuing transformation. Never rushed or overtly dramatic, the growth is refreshingly organic and effortlessly relatable.

I particularly enjoyed the bonding between women, who, despite their own shortcomings, offer courage, companionship, and care to each other, forging sisterhood far beyond blood and borders.

The streets of Mangalore and Atlanta come alive, as does the food of the regions served up by its inhabitants, sometimes hearty like the abundant love and support she relishes, and sometimes spicy, like their harsh attitude she endures, all of which become companions of Tara’s tumultuous journey. 

This charmingly simplistic chronicle explores the many dimensions of the human mind and mindset of society, and the consequences of each, which may turn out to be tragic or triumphant.

“I take heart in the knowledge that the monsters around me do not sully me, because the names they have for me are not the names I have for myself,” Tara writes about herself.

In the age of social media, where kids are bullied, and adults are shamed by nameless cowards who hide behind their firewalls, and sometimes openly, just because they feel entitled to do so, could use the same realization to emerge victorious amidst the very soiled “victimization of victims”, as Rao puts it, and bloom into a glorious, serene lotus, a rare purple lotus even. 


Jyothsna Hegde is a City News Editor at NRI Pulse newspaper and an independent software consultant. She holds a master’s degree in Computer Science and has served as faculty at Towson State University. It gives her immense pleasure to share triumphs and tribulations of the indomitable human spirit through her writing.