Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Documenting the Short Story. Reviewed published in The Statesman dated June 8,2008

As the name suggests, the book under review is about short stories written in English by Indian authors. Murli Melwani has traced the growth of the short story in its historical and cultural context. He feels this genre has been treated as a side activity by novelists and hence neglected by critics. Melwani examines how much of the traditional story telling is preserved and how much of the form, refined in the West, has been accepted. According to him, this genre enjoys a few advantages over the novel.

The intellectual, isolated from the life of the masses, can record his isolation and unrelatedness better. A view, that may not be shared by others. While documenting the short story from early beginnings to post-modern times, Melwani's treatise features writers, inconsequential to the ordinary reader, but, who perhaps could throw some light on anecdotes of Indian life for students of literature and sociology. Thus, apart from a few others, Cornelia Sorabjee's The Love and Life behind the Purdah finds a place in the early section.

Translated stories have been excluded, so Tagore's work doesn't feature here, but Melwani pays obeisance to him, admitting his influence on Indian writers to be all-pervasive'. The freedom struggle, Gandhi and Gandhian way of life, fables, beliefs, the middle class, the rich and the poor, the Bengal famine form the backdrop for the stories, so, Melwani is perhaps right when he says this genre shows India in all its entirety.

The founders, Mulk Raj Anand, R.K. Narayan, Raja Rao are dealt with in some detail. He is frank in appreciating as well as disapproving. He condemns Anand's verbosity and pompous diction. Of adapting English to express vernacular idioms, he says, it is a successful means of conveying the flavour of regional speech when used moderately. R.K. Narayan's repeating situations and characters in different combinations, irksome to some, is appreciated by Melwani. He also praises Narayan for remaining detached in all his stories. Raja Rao's experiments with form interest him.Numerous writers, both men and women from the South, whom one doesn't normally encounter, are covered by Melwani.

One agrees with this author when he says, more women are writing short stories now, than at any other time. He features a great many of them. Ruth Prawar Jhabavala, Attia Hossain, Ela Sen, Padma Hejmadi, Kamala Das, Sujatha Bala Subramanian, Raji Narisimhan, Juliette Banerjee, Nergis Dalal, Susan Viswanathan, Shashi Deshpande, Jai Nimbkar, Anita Desai and a host of others are presented by Melwani. He shows us how these writers brought renewed life and extended subject matter to the Indian English story. Their work is of a remarkable standard and variety, and they contribute to the modern consciousness, both Indian experience of a changing social structure and the pattern of daily living. Both exotic and common place.This study of women writers provides a useful guidance to further reading.

Melwani is among those very few who realise the importance of anthologies. This is the only way little known writers, whose stories may not be inferior in any way to that of their better known counter parts, can draw the attention of readers. Along with popular writers, lesser known, too, find a place in this treatise which is in keeping with the true spirit of a historical survey. Writers of Indian origin who live abroad are mentioned in passing, for this book deals only with Indian writers of this subcontinent, both living and dead. In the closing chapters of this book, Melwani seems to be in a mighty hurry.—

Reviewed by Neeta Sen Samarth The Stateman.
(The reviewer is a freelance contributor)

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Writing is Fundamental

By a strange coincidence, the better halves of most of my buddies are either teachers or librarians. Since I enjoy reading, I could not be better connected. One of my connections, Kathy Letchworth, teaches eighth grade in a middle school in Plano. On the last Friday of every month, she invites a guest speaker to address her students.

"I would like you to share your life lessons and give them advice," she told me. Since I haven't attained guruhood as yet, I told Kathy that I'd settle for something more prosaic. I'd prefer to talk about the importance of writing in everyday life.

I am a person from the Orient, and I was not sure what my first classroom experience in the U.S would be. My doubts were unfounded. Kathy's students were polite, disciplined, interactive and respectful.

I made my points briefly (I hope). Writing figures into many everyday activities, from framing an e-mail, compiling a to-do list, writing a memo in an office to sitting down to pen an old-fashioned letter. I asked the class to think of the situations that occur in the course of a day that call for some sort of communication by writing. It became clear that words are like money. Words are the notes and coins we use when we transact business, deal with issues that affect our interests, and, above all, when we express our feelings.

The interaction threw up two interesting facts: First, we spend as much time each day writing as we do eating our three basic meals – that is, 43,200 minutes a year; second, IM (instant messaging) is considered old hat now, since TM (text messaging) is more flexible.

There was occasion to share with the students instances where my published writing had telescoped distance and connected me with like-minded people; introduced me on a personal level to wonderful people whom I would never have come to know otherwise; and, closer to home, had helped to turn acquaintances into friends.

Once the interaction started, the questions went beyond writing. The healthy curiosity of the young touched on my background, my travels and my opinions on issues like arranged marriages. One fact startled them: I've seen girls and boys in a Third World country attend an open-air school where, because trees grew at great distances from each other in that arid climate, different grades shared two sides of the same tree.

The greatest surprise came a few days later, when Kathy forwarded me handwritten letters from each of her students – 21 in all. The students shared their reactions to my views on writing.
Reading these responses gave me a sense of fulfillment. They were my reward. I could not have asked for a better one. Asia wrote: "I never thought of writing in the way you explained it. I always thought the writing process was: plans, drafts, editing and final copy."

I had told them that writing was more of a mental and less than a physical act. Whether the medium is the computer, TM, IM or plain old-fashioned paper, the process of writing remains the same. Asia went on to make a critical connection: "Maybe one day I will use this information for writing music."

I was gratified to see that most of them had been forthright. "When you said writing creates magic, I wasn't sure I knew what you were talking about. After you explained it, it made me realize I can write stories and make them come to life," wrote Angel.

Hunter framed his reaction this way: "Writing is one way I can release all my feelings. ... I can just spill it out, all on paper."

The letters proved that the young are willing to open up, share their thoughts and feelings and bridge the generation gap, if we older folk have the time to listen

Appeared in The Dallas Morning News dated 5th June 2008

Friday, January 4, 2008

Review published in Muse India, Issue #21, Sept-Oct 2008

Review by

By Shaleen Kumar Singh, Jul 26, 2008 Budaun, India,
Indian English Stories — A review

Though we have seen in past few years innumerable books of criticism on Indian English Poetry and Fiction being published, there has remained a dearth of books of criticism on short fiction. Murli Melwani’s critical and historical survey of Indian English stories, covering a broad spectrum from colonial beginning to Post-modern times, addresses this dearth. Indeed it is the first comprehensive study of this genre.

India has been the land of stories. The Jataka Tales and the Panchatantrastories continue to be read even today. The Katha Sarita Sagara, the largest collections of stories in the world, has been the inspiration for the Arabian Nights and others tales which traveled to Europe via the Middle East.

In the beginning the writers proudly documented the customs and traditions of Indian life. Between 1835 and 1935 we have a succession of writers with this aim. Cornelia Sorabji, Dhan Gopal Mukherjee, A.S. Panchpakesha Ayyar, Shankar Ram, among others, prepared the way for the giants who wrote between 1935 and 1950.

Among the giants, Mulk Raj Anand corrected the impression of India and its inhabitants created by Kipling and other Western writers. R.K. Narayan highlighted the drama of everyday life. Raja Rao incorporated elements of Indian folk tales in his stories.

In the fifties, Khushwant Singh observed Indian life with a satirical eye and Attia Hosian conveyed the horrors of Partition in restrained prose.

In the sixties, Ruth Jhabvala captured the foibles of Indians with a foreigner’s objectivity. Bunny Reuben introduced cinematic techniques to the short story. Ruskin Bond found moving moments in common lives. Bhabani Bhattacharya captured exotic aspects of Indian life.

In the Seventies Anita Desai brought the intensity of her novels to her stories. Keki Daruwalla set his stories in unusual locales. Padma Hejmadi wrote about life in South India. Jug Suraiya and Vivek Adarkar were the voices of youth at the time. Arun Joshi wrote parables of Indian life. The subject of Manohar Malgonkar’s stories was the army. Kamala Das brought the sensitivity of her poetry to her stories. Shashi Deshpande dealt with the questions of a woman’s lot and place in Indian society.

The writers who came in the eighties, and continue to write today, have branched out into newer territory. Life in the city - Bombay in the case of Vikram Chandra, Bangalore in that of Lavanya Sankaran, Calcutta in the case of Amit Chaudhuri - is very much the subject of scrutiny. Nisha Da Cunha writes about the states of women’s minds. Shree Ghatage examines the demands of tradition, family obligations and personal freedom on an individual. Gay life is the subject of R. Raja Rao’s stories. The exploration of new areas of India and the heart goes on in the stories of Githa Haiharan, Anita Nair, Sangeeta Wadhwani, Anjana Appachana, Meher Pestonji, Susan Visvanathan, and others.

Melwani is optimistic about the future of Indian English short stories. The richness of ideas and themes will provide more and more opportunities for story writers to pen stories of significance, beauty and power. Melwani’s book is a seminal work which will, in future, guide the critics to give the short story the same respect and study as they do to Indian English Poetry and Fiction.
Indian English Stories (from Colonial Beginning to Post Modern Tales), by Murli Melwani, Sampark: Calcutta, 2007, Rs-300/-Pages-174

Respected Dr. Shaleen,
Nice Review. Only a few can do it like you have done. Hope to get more from you.
Dr Kalpna Rajput, Budaun, IndiaAug 03, 2008

Review posted in www.shortstoriesforchildren,net


As Murli Das Melwani states in the Preface, the aim of the book is to draw attention to the genre of Indian Short stories in English by critically surveying its historical development from 1835 to the present. He delineates the characteristic thematic features of various authors in seven sections divided into several sub-sections. However, as the writer says in the Preface, the scope of this book is limited to stories collected and published in the book form. neither the bookincludes uncollected published short stories, retold stories, fairytales and long short stories, nor does it include translated short stories.
In the ‘Introduction’, Melwani traces the development of short story from Kathasaritsagar to Raja Rao without excluding its development as a form in the West. He takes into account early practitioners such as E.T.W. Hoffman, N. V. Gogol, Merimee, Balzac, Gautier, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, O’Henry, and H. G. Wells etc in the West and Sudhin Ghosh, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and others in India.
The first section entitled ‘The Beginnings:1835-1935′ includes authors such as Pallab Sengupta, Soshee Chunder Dutt, Cornelia Sorabjee, S. B. Banerjea, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, a. S. Panchpakesa Ayyar, C. T. Ramabhai etc. These early Indianwriters in English paved the way for the great trio of Indian English Fiction, namely Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan, and Raja Rao who are all discussed separately in Section II of the book. in ‘The first Flowering: 1935-1945′ Melwani includes such other writers as Manjeri S. Isvaran, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ela Sen, and Louis Gracious who enriched the nationalist movement of the period with their writing.
Section III deals with several celebrated authors of 1950s such as Attia Hossain, Khushwant Singh, G. D. Khosla, and others who reflected on human characters vis–vis economic development in the early phase of Post-Independence India.
Section IV, ‘The second Flowering: 1960-1970′ deals with some well known writers such as R. P. Jhabvala, Bunny Reuben, Ruskin Bond, Bhabani Bhattacharya who are less moral but more satirical and paradoxical in theirtreatment of themes.
Section V is aptly titled as ‘The Blossoming’ because it covers the plethora of short story writers such as Padma Hejmadi, Keki N. Daruwalla, Anita Desai, Hamdi Bey, Kamala Das, Arun Joshi, Manohar Malgaonkar, and others who flourished during the 1970s and 1980s.
They deal with a variety of themes such as changing ways of small town Indianlife, human psyche, parables, politics, the army etc.
The following chapter, Section VI ‘An Extended Spring’ takes into account contemporary writers such as Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri, Githa Hariharan, Anita Nair, Uma Parameswaran, Meher Pestonji, and others who contemplate on themes such as mystery, fantasy, migration, homosexuality, tradition versus modernity etc.
The final section ‘The Prospect’ provides details about the history of publishinghouses. It also mentions the neglected women publishers such as Kali, Katha, Stree, Tara, Tulika, Yoda, Karadi, Zubaan, Women Unlimited, and Biblio. It also talks about the future of Indian Short story in English. the section reflects on absence of literary prizes in India and mentions positive developments such as Vodaphone Crossword Book Award, Indiaplaza Golden Book Awards, Readerr’s Choice award etc for promoting short story writing and reading.
One of the significant features of the book is that it includes details about the lesser known writers along with well known writers. Critical surveys generally cover only the well known names.
The Bibliography can be of great help to researchers because it provides detailed information about anthologies of short stories from the time as early as 1908.
On the negative side, however, the book excludes mention of some well known contemporary writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, Farrukh Dhondy, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Rohinton Mistry etc. the book would have been strengthened with their discussion even if the motive of the writer may have been to acquaint the readers to lesser known names which most books tend to ignore. yet, it is a significant publication, useful to every researcher and students ofIndian English Writing.
(jointly with Sudeshna Pandey, M.Phil Researcher)
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