Cover image of the book 'Ganga's Choice and Other Stories' by Vaasanthi. (By Arrangement)
The collection of fifteen short stories is set in various locales — different states of India and abroad — and encompasses the rural-urban, literate-illiterate map of humanity in its sweep of universal emotions. The stories effectively bridge these gaps and binaries as they evoke human — and humaneness in the situations they depict and the ways in which the protagonists meet challenges, surmount difficulties or are caught in the vicious trap of circumstances. They thus transcend all barriers of space, time, distance, gender…
Whether it is the exercise of free will ("Ganga’s Choice"), the courage and strength of the common man/woman and the rising above personal grief and guilt to offer compassion and service to another ("The Steering Wheel"), despair and sometimes, its antidote ("Line of Control"), revenge and deliverance ("Voice") the devastating discovery of an idol’s hideous feet of clay ("Untold Story") — the stories cover myriad themes, and emotions flit across them as though on the expressive countenance of an animated speaker holding forth with passion and intensity.
Many of the stories end on a note of satisfaction for the reader, as when retribution or karma catches up ("Punishment"). In some others which take up the themes of patriarchy ("Murder", "Dance of the Gods"), foeticide ("Poison"), hypocrisy and the plight of the devadasi ("Symbol"), the stories conclude on a certain tone of triumph — sometimes darkly shadowed — but triumph of a sort, nevertheless. The yawning chasm between small town life and the big city intersecting with entrapment and false imprisonment is brought out poignantly in the plight of the protagonist who returns home looking for peace and happiness, only to find his hopes belied ("Gap"). A story that rises above creed, and infuses a note of positivity and hope for humanity — inspite of its tragic conclusion ("He Came"), describes the troubles of the migrants during the difficult days of the lockdown. And there is the delicately subtle story of marital love that surprises by its conclusion which blossoms tenderly in the readers’ minds in its recognition of unexpected ways in which love expresses itself ("Hands").
Most of the stories have women at the centre who emerge as strong beings inspite of going through situations that could well have turned them into pathetic victims always bemoaning their fate. If there is a Ganga who chooses to live as she wishes to and rejects stereotypical expectations of what "completes" a woman, there is Panchali (what connotations spring to mind here!) who, rather than meekly accept the facts of her situation as other women have, goes out in a literal blaze of rebellion. On the other hand, there is the young girl on her way to court to testify against members of a mob who burst into her house and killed people in her family ("The Testimony"), and who, inspite of holding steadfast throughout to her decision without being cowed down by threats, reverses her stand at the very last moment and is overwhelmed with grief and despair.
The translation is well done, retaining the flavour of the original, evoking the cultural and social contexts in understated ways. Vaasanthi is a writer who needs to be read and the translated volume deserves to be on syllabi to sensitise young people to various issues that plague our society.
Ganga’s Choice and Other Stories
Translated by Sukanya Venkatraman, Gomathi Narayanan and Vaasanthi
pp. 255, Rs.450