WHEN PEACOCKS DANCE: Stories by Vasanthi Victor. iUniverse, Inc. Paperback.

When Peacocks Dance could be glimpses from anyone’s life. The stories are everyday tales, some of life in the U.S., some of life back in India. However, what makes these stories a refreshing read is author Vasanthi Victor’s easy language and detailed, yet unlabored descriptions.

In “The Long Journey,” Victor describes a couple’s train journey from Baroda to Bombay as they are on their way to be with their daughter in the U.S. In this story, Victor skillfully uses a cabin from the Indian Railways as a setting to throw together a wide spectrum of characters, while narrating the scene with a vividness that almost brings it alive. “In the crowded passageway she steps over extended legs and then unwittingly onto a bundle on the floor. The bundle moves. She immediately removes her offending foot with an apology, but the mother of the sleeping lump stares up at her accusingly.”
Similarly, in another story set on the other side of the globe, “At the Corner Laundromat,” Victor tells the story of a young Indian woman in America, who has done the unthinkable—live with a foreign man. Through deftly woven descriptions of Neelima D’Costa’s mundane trips to the laundromat and the ensuing thought-processes, Victor narrates a dilemma faced by many a young Indian woman living alone in the U.S.

The second section of Victor’s short story collection is titled “Kerala Stories.” Very simply put, each story in this section is a trip to a different part of this beautiful coastal state in southern India and a long look into the homes of its inhabitants and the happenings within. In “Chicken Dreams,” one can feel the salt in the ocean breeze and feel the receding sand under one’s feet as Thressiamma and her cousin Keshu draw circles in the warm sand. In “A Spin in the Backwaters,” one can almost feel the dullness of the knife and hear the jangle of Kunjamma’s gold bangles as she cuts beans in her kitchen while telling tales from the past.

A common fabric that runs through all of Victor’s stories is the central character—a woman. Different generations of women, women of beauty, ordinary women, housewives, and their daily lives. As Roshni Rustomji-Kerns writes in her foreword: “In When Peacocks Dance, … women search for ways to gain self confidence in India and in the USA, women fall in love and decide to make love to whom they want and are betrayed in both countries, women raise children and remember their own childhoods in both countries and they find refuge in either country.”

This is a book of women, by a woman, with stories that make a good read for all. —Nitya Ramanan