A. K. Ramanujan classifies the folktales that pervade South Asian society by subject matter. Some feature strong men, others, strong women. Many deal with family relationships. There are stories of the supernatural and stories about animals, grim stories and humorous stories, and even stories about storytelling. Ramanujan’s list could well be used as the basis of a study of subjects and themes in South Asian short fiction. For example, in Love and Longing in Bombay one finds family conflicts and conflicts between families, strong men and weak men, women who know how to play power games, violence and degradation, satire and humor, and even a ghost.
The old folktales in which human beings show themselves as animals or vice versa are obvious metaphors for issues of identity. In Ismat Chughtai’s “Sacred Duty,” from The Quilt and Other Stories (1994), a young couple attempt to placate their parents by being married in both Muslim and Hindu ceremonies, but when it becomes evident that their families will never let them be themselves, the newlyweds disappear. Naturally, the parents are devastated.
Throughout her works, this courageous writer called for an end to all forms of tyranny, including the patriarchal system, which she believed enslaved women and deprived them of their identities. Among the other South Asian female writers who focus on women’s issues are Attia Hosain, Shashi Deshpande, Bharati Mukherjee, and Chitra...
(The entire section is 515 words.)