Category Archives: TBASS 2018

Short Stories: Bougainvillea By Martin Bradley



It was not always easy for John to understand Zoe’s English, but this time all he had to do was to look where she was pointing.

In the middle of the track was a large otter, standing on its hind legs. It was looking in their direction. John and Zoe, unable to move lest they disturb the creature, kept quiet. After some minutes, another large otter bounded from a pool to the right of the track, slowly passed across the track and into another pool on the other side. It was quickly followed by a troop of much smaller otters hastening across the track. When all the others had vanished into the pool, the guarding otter followed suit.

“Well, it’s the first time I’ve seen an otter traffic warden,” said John, as they both fell about laughing.

The sandy track became more defined as a road and, as the jeep climbed to the top of yet another hillock, before them lay a series of three huge, interconnected dredge holes. They had become filled with water; around them were trees and bushes. The expanse of water seemed to stretch for at least a couple of kilometres. Green islets, dotted here and there, added yet more mystery to that already intriguing expanse of water. Read more

Short Story: The Attack by Reba Khatun


Labli was woken up by the dawn chorus. It was hard not to smile at the chirping of the sweet birds. She grabbed her long scarf from the foot of the bed and threw it over her head. Brushing back a loose strand of black hair from her forehead, she opened the door quietly so as not to disturb her younger brother, Joynal. He still had a few hours of sleep before waking up to go to school.The door squeaked as she pulled it shut behind her.

Labli looked down at her red shalwar kameez and tried to brush out the creases. It didn’t look as rumpled as it had before. Anyway, it would have to do; her only other set was still drying in the kitchen after yesterday’s thunderstorm.

As she felt her way along the cold, dark hallway, she noticed her parents’ bedroom door was ajar. Her mother was stirring on the bed; her father’s place was empty. Labli unlocked the front door and made her way to the tube well at the bottom of the veranda steps. The air was crisp and cool. Doel birds flapped overhead and one landed in one of the betel palm trees, lifting its white tail as it whistled. The Adhan, the call to prayer, blared out over the masjid’s loudspeakers. She filled up a plastic jug with water and made ablution. After praying the four units of the dawn prayer, she collected firewood from around the courtyard and milked the cow. She had just lit the fire when her mother walked into the kitchen. Read more

Book review: The Best Asian Short Stories, 2018, ed. Dr Debotri Dhar

Reviewed by Mitali Chakravarty


Title: The Best Asian Short Stories 2018
Editor: Debotri Dhar
Series Editor: Zafar Anjum
Publisher: Kitaab

The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 is a collection of nineteen short stories, that saunter through the wonderland of Asia to dwell on vignettes of life in the vast continent. Edited by Dr Debotri Dhar and series editor Zafar Anjum, the second volume of the series has a mix of stories by eminent and upcoming writers.

Our emotions are played on from all angles as each story flavours our palate with different moods. We pause to smile over an unusual light-hearted Goan romance among the elderly in Geralyn Pinto’s “Cakes” and cringe with horror at the impact of acid attacks on women, a reality in Bangladesh and Pakistan as portrayed by Reba Khatun. Dr Rakshanda Jalil’s story with the tale of Zuliekha’s transformation from a shy Muslim girl to a glamorous club diva brings to mind Eliza Doolittle, heroine of Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion, except this story has a twist which colours it with class stratification that are essentially Indian.

“Festival”, a translated story from Japan, gives us a glimpse of the intermingling of old and new in a country that retains its traditions despite its modernity. William Tham Wai Liang’s nostalgic “At the Moonlit River’s Edge” brings us close to the theme that has been explored in The State of Emergency, the 2018 Singapore Literature prize-winning novel – the communist insurgency in 1950s Malaya. Strangely, Martin Bradley’s “Bougainvillea”, set in modern day Malaysia also hovers around the same theme as the protagonist journeys to Ipoh in search of his father’s grave, his father having lost his life in 1951 during an encounter with communist insurgents. However, this is a story that transcends the angst of history to bring in themes of friendship and wonder generated by the multicultural flavour of life in this region. We have another lovely story of ASEAN friendship in the Singaporean Thai romance named after the delicious Thai dessert, “Mango and Sticky Rice”.

The unusual and paranormal have been explored by a couple of writers. “The Rescuer” is a supernatural adventure set in a Japanese railway station, a strange tale that leaves the reader stupefied! “The Grey Thread” by young Vanessa Ng is another one that explores an unusual, bizarre journey into a world of paint and paper.

Some of the stories fiddle with recent natural disasters and contemporary issues. The impact of the historic cloudburst in the Himalayas in 2013 and the arbitrariness of all existence is explored in “The Cosmic Dance”. “Begin Again”, set in Phillipines, explores teen adjustment issues. “For Chikki’s Sake” not only comments on marital issues, parenting but also on caste based marriage, which still exists in parts of India. The dichotomy that exists in women’s world between feminism and reality in India is well captured in “Don’t Even Ask! Poochho Mat!” “The Amulet” explores the disappointment of a diva; “The Bureaucrats’s Wife” reflects the breakdown of values in a rich man’s home; “Lola’s Honeymoon” is a strange tale which gives a glimpse of moneyed life as does “The Cycle”, though this story does ascend social boundaries drawn by economic barriers and the futility of addiction to drugs and violence.

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Short story: Festival Time by Ippei Mogami; trans. Avery Fischer Udagawa


Masashi didn’t think that Katsuji was special just because he was in the sixth grade. He was big, that was all—big and loud. When Masashi got fed up with Katsuji, he would call him turtle inside his stomach and pick on the turtle.

Masashi was only a year younger than Katsuji, but this difference caused him endless problems. So did being small for his age. This spring alone had shown that.

Rehearsals for the village festival had been underway for a week. Katsuji had moved to the flute section this year; meanwhile, Masashi was still playing kane, a dish-shaped bell pronounced kah-neh. That’s right—his fingers were too short to cover the holes of a horizontal bamboo flute, even if he stretched. This might have been bearable on its own, but now some fifth and sixth grade girls had also joined the kane section, so Katsuji had to play with girls. Spring festival was supposed to be a men’s event. But the village had grown too small for its boys and men to cover all the parts.

With just a few days to go, intense practice sessions were running nightly, but Masashi could not muster his usual excitement. He felt cheated getting stuck on kane again, and with girls.

The gap between him and Katsuji showed when they walked home from school too.

“Here, I’ll coach you. Play your part from the top,” Katsuji ordered Masashi. He pantomimed holding a kane in the palm of one hand and striking it with a mallet.

“I don’t have my instrument,” Masashi replied.

“You don’t need it!” Katsuji sneered. “Chant the pattern. Masahiko’s dad taught me how, when I started. You go like this. To-te-to-te-chin . . .” Katsuji chanted a section and motioned for Masashi to take over.

Masashi didn’t want to if he didn’t have to, but out of habit, when he saw Katsuji glare at him in his signature way, he smiled and nodded. Even he thought this was pathetic. You never give a thought to people’s feelings. Masashi clicked his tongue at the turtle in his stomach. But even the turtle seemed oblivious and began chanting to-te-to-te-chin. Masashi looked at Katsuji, surprised.

“What?” Katsuji said. “Let’s hear it!”

Katsuji’s arrogance put Masashi in a sour mood. He positioned his air kane grumpily. “To-te-to-te-chin. To-te-tote-chin, to-te. To-te-to-te-chin.”

“Idiot. How many years have you played? It’s like this. To-te-to-te-chin, to-te. To-te, ton, chin.” Katsuji was right.

Masashi adjusted his stance and “played” again. As he chanted, he got caught up in the cadence and imagined the festival lion dancing to it.

Katsuji added accent-calls: “Yo! a-so-re!”

Soon Masashi could nearly feel his kane vibrate against his fingertips, and hear it clang its steady rhythm. His stomach seemed to have a smaller, slower turtle inside. That turtle was him. “Katsun-chan, it’s still a men’s festival, right? Even with girls?” Masashi asked Katsuji.

“Of course!” Katsuji bellowed. “And you’re the only boy who’s played kane before. So you better hit well enough for both of us.”

“Leave it to me,” Masashi replied.

He watched as Katsuji puffed out his chest and straightened his posture, then pretended to play his flute. His fingers fluttered nimbly over the “holes.”

Masashi yelled turtle! at the thing he had become in his stomach. He looked back at Katsuji. He felt himself laugh. To disguise the laugh, he started to chant his part again loudly: To-te-to-te-chin.


Read the complete story in The Best Asian Short Story 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:

For Indian buyers: Flipkart &

For all buyers (except India): Kitaabstore 

Short story: Mrs Ahmed’s Diamonds by Rakhshanda Jalil


There is a restless energy about Mrs Ahmed. She appears to be chewing on something all the time. Her jaws move constantly, distractedly. Her eyes, large and protuberant, are never still. Moving relentlessly, they skim the room, flitting from objects to people, seldom settling on any one for very long. And yet she herself is oddly still, sitting almost motionless for hours in that room filled with walking and talking people.

I have been seeing her for years now. She usually occupies one of the high-backed wingchairs in the Lounge, the one at the far end of the room. Set against large bay windows, it is an excellent vantage point to take in the activities both inside the Lounge and on the gravel path outside going towards the Bar. In winters, she has her chair pulled close to the roaring fire. Set at an incline to the fireplace, once again this position affords her a great view of the goings on in the room. In the warm glow of the fire, the light glinting off the many diamonds on her large, handsome person, she occupies the still centre of that otherwise frenetic room with its constant to-ing and fro-ing of members and bearers.

She is a handsome woman. The angular jut of her chin and the bulging eyes make her stop short of being a beautiful woman, but there’s still a great deal to declaim that she must once have been striking-looking if not a great beauty. Her unnaturally dark hair might owe much to a professional hair colourist but it’s still thick and long, piled up as it is in an artful updo. Her body, stocky and inclined towards stoutness now, shows a trace of its former nimbleness when she stands up to her full height or on the few occasions that I have seen her walking towards the Card Room. What is more, she wears her sari tightly draped across her chest and hips in the way that modern young women do, women young enough to be her granddaughters.

I am no card player and have nothing in common with the gin-drinking ladies who gather everyday without fail to play Rummy and Bridge. I come to the Club to use the Library and Swimming Pool and, increasingly, to pop by for some tea. And so, I have only ever encountered Mrs Ahmed sitting in the Lounge, possibly waiting for her friends to come at noon—or after her game, when the others have gone and she is by herself, alone. Once, I must confess, I even followed her till the Card Room to see who she would meet and, frankly, also to see how she looked when she spoke or interacted with others. For, I had only ever seen her still and silent in the Lounge.


Read the complete story in The Best Asian Short Story 2018. Show your support for contemporary Asian voices. Order your copy now:

For Indian buyers: Flipkart &

For all buyers (except India): Kitaabstore 

Short story: Cakes by Geralyn Pinto


Monik despised procrastination, that sneaky little pilferer of time and opportunity. Besides, she liked a project. Her love of projects had caused her to walk down the aisle on two occasions because she couldn’t resist planning a new phase of life after the sad demise of a husband. It was time, however, to look to the needs of others.

Natalia needed a man.

At the novena the following week, there was the usual shuffling monotony about everything. Then a voice from the recesses of the church: “For all those who are lonely. We petition Thee, O Heavenly Father, to look upon them with pity. Saint Anthony Wonder Worker, pray for us.”

Could it really be? After all these years? It did sound a bit like him.

It was. Mathias Faleiro had returned.

After the service, he came up to her. “My dear Monik…”

“Mathias, how absolutely wonderful! When did you get back? Is it for good?”

“A week ago. Ah yes, we’ve returned at last to glad Goa.”

Glad? A man who smelt of camphor and old coats probably turned every celebration into a happy requiem. Still, here was a man. But just a coconut-plucking moment. “We’ve returned? You mean you got marri…?”

“Oh, no, no.” Mathias looked at his toes. “I mean Barkis, my trusty canine friend, and I. I retired from teaching five years ago. Then we lost Galileo, and it was a little too painful to stay on. Besides, the ancestral place here was falling to pieces.”


“My parrot.”


“I promise to drop by sometime, Monik, as soon as I can get my place fit for habitation.”

Poor, ignorant man. He had no idea that he was going to be dragged to Villa Rosa. On-a-leash.

“Mathias, do. Please.”

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Short story: The Grey Thread by Vanessa Ng

Starting this week, Kitaab will bring to you excerpts from Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories 2018 and Best Speculative Fiction anthologies.

Click on the links given at the end of the excerpt and help us sustain our efforts to bring literature from across Asia to you. Read on!




If you are to fall asleep while being physically transported, you will start experiencing something out of this world. To be specific, if you happen to be moving at an extraordinary pace while in deep sleep, your consciousness will not be able to catch up, and you can be separated from your physical being. You will, then, be in two different places at the same time.

When that happens, you will cease to breathe. Your brain will start to wander, and conjure up a third place to make sense of it all. This is when you wake up at The Place.

The Place is a manifestation of consciousness; being ever-evolving, it can have unlimited variations. Its eventual form is perceived differently, based on each individual’s experiences and hopes for the future. Whatever the case, if you get too attached or fail to leave The Place quickly enough, you get stuck there.



Hailey was staring at an oil painting. She neither understood the intense mess of the strokes, nor the utterly mismatched colours used. There was a mishmash of painting techniques and a total disregard of the colour wheel. All the disorder made her nauseous, almost seasick. Blinking hard, Hailey stepped back from the chaos and took in a deep breath.

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Kitaab’s The Best Asian Short Stories (TBASS) 2018: Winners and selected authors

Today, when latitudes shift, cultures collide, and we are all travellers in one form or another, in ways perhaps unprecedented, these stories must be told.
              — Dr Debotri Dhar, editor TBASS 2018

The Best Asian Short Stories

Putting together an anthology of short stories is not easy. Reading across a continent and picking from among the best of its writers and their stories is a daunting endeavour. TBASS 2018 is the fruit of this undertaking — 24 writers, 13 countries — led by Dr Debotri Dhar, Editor, TBASS 2018 and Zafar Anjum, Series editor.

‘The winners of TBASS 2018 are Rakhshanda Jalil (India), Aditi Mehrotra (India), and Martin Bradley (Malaysia; originally UK),’ said Dr. Debotri Dhar. ‘I also loved the translation of Japanese writer Mogami Ippei by Avery Udagawa (Thailand; originally USA), and there were many other excellent entries, from more than 13 countries.

‘While Rakhshanda Jalil is a seasoned writer known to many in South Asia, Aditi Mehrotra is an aspiring Indian writer whose story delightfully juxtaposed textual passages and news clippings on women’s empowerment with everyday life vignettes of domesticity from small-town India. Martin Bradley’s story highlighted the intersecting themes of travel, historical memory, and communication across differences. Today, when latitudes shift, cultures collide, and we are all travellers in one form or another, in ways perhaps unprecedented, these stories must be told.’

‘The response to TBASS 2017 has been tremendous. That really encouraged us to continue the series and redouble our efforts,’ said Zafar Anjum, Series Editor of TBASS and founder of Kitaab. ‘TBASS tries to represent the best of Asian voices, and we are specially keen to provide a literary platform to emerging, new voices from the region.  The sheer writing talent that we have gathered in this volume is a testament to Asia’s creative fecundity.’


  1. Rakhshanda Jalil (India) Story title: ‘Diamonds are Forever’
  2. Aditi Mehrotra (India) Story title: ‘Don’t Ask! Poocho mat!’
  3. Martin Bradley (Malaysia; originally UK) Story title: ‘Bougainvillea’
  4. Also, Avery Udagawa (Thailand; originally US) Story title: ‘Festival Time.’ Translation of Japanese writer Mogami Ippei. She is working on the translation rights.

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