South Asian Short Fiction Summary


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Since what was once known simply as “India” now consists of a number of political entities, such as India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, and Bhutan, the larger area is generally referred to either as “South Asia” or as “the Indian subcontinent.” The writers who are classified as South Asian, however, may not have been born on the subcontinent or may have moved elsewhere. In a few cases, their connection to the continent is not by blood but through marriage to a South Asian.

Some very important South Asian writers spent their lives in the same area where they were born, Shashi Deshpande, Mrnala Pande, and R. K. Narayan, for example. However, when Partition and the violence that followed sent millions fleeing to safety, there were a number of writers among the refugees. For instance, Qurratulain Hyder left her longtime home in Lucknow, India, for Muslim Pakistan, where she lived for some years, eventually returning to India in order to escape Pakistan’s increasing repression of women. Hyder became one of Bombay’s most influential journalists, an authority on Urdu literature, and a prize-winning author, who in 1967 was awarded the prestigious Sahitya Akademi Award for her short-story collection in Urdu, Patjhar ki Awaz.

The Storyteller and the Story

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

The people of the Indian subcontinent have one quality in common, a delight in storytelling. In Gods, Demons, and Others (1964), R. K. Narayan describes how a storyteller provided his village not only with entertainment but also with moral and religious instruction. As A. K. Ramanujan points out, folktales still permeate South Asian culture. They are familiar in cities as well as in villages, among those of every faith and every caste or class. Undoubtedly the subcontinent’s receptivity to short fiction owes much to this ancient tradition.

By habitually describing himself as a storyteller, R. K. Narayan recognizes his indebtedness to the oral tradition. In Malgudi, the small fictional community where his works are set, Narayan shows human beings at their best and at their worst and dramatizes the cosmic conflict between good and evil.

The community where Rohinton Mistry set his Tales from Firozsha Baag (1987; published in the United States as Swimming Lessons and Other Stories from Firozsha Baag, 1989) is a Parsi housing complex in Bombay, but, like any village, it has a resident storyteller, Nariman Hansotia, who interprets events for his community and sometimes serves as its conscience. Subramaniam, the civil servant and teller of tales in Vikram Chandra’s Love and Longing in Bombay, fulfills a similar function.