Thoroughly enjoyable, and offering much food for thought, particularly to every Indian woman and man who are going, or have gone through any hiccups or interesting situations in inter-personal relationships, ‘Arya and Other Stories’ is a delightful collection of original and sometimes eccentric tales, with their heart in the right place, writes Monica Arora.
Chandrika Balan’s collection of a dozen stories on women, ’Arya and Other Stories’—originally written in Malayalam and translated by the author herself into English—is certainly not for the faint-hearted. They actually reminded me of that famous quote from British novelist Charlotte Brontë’s epic Jane Eyre—“I would always rather be happy than dignified.” The women she talks about are feisty, fearless, fantastical, and yet, feminine. Hailing from ‘God’s own country’—the picturesque state of Kerala in the coastal region of south India—Chandrika’s stories emanate a whiff of the soil and of the fresh jasmine flowers adorning every village belle’s tresses. The culture, lifestyle, socio-economic status in urban and rural parts of the state, food, education, religious propensities–all this and more enable the reader to paint a visual portrait of this charming state and of the protagonist’s life.
Paradox and irony are Chandrika’s key strengths in weaving these mesmerizing stories, and in most of them, she deploys them to the hilt. And the most endearing factor throughout the collection is the strength of her female protagonists who continue to haunt and intrigue much after one has turned the last page and devoured the book in its entirety. Whether it is the defiant ‘Arya,’ named after her much revered grandmother, who refuses to toe the line as the male members of her family expect her to, and her quest for love that takes her far away from home; or the young protagonist from ‘Devigramam’ who is grappling with explaining the significance of the female deity Devi and her impact on their lives to her city-bred, modern husband, the quiet dignity and strength of their characters shines through their adversities.