What is love in india
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In the introduction, Kakar compares the modern love story with the representation of love and eros in classical Sanskrit literature and states: "Today's world of love rarely shines brightly; all too often it is dark and cloudy." The contrast between the very conservative relationship between the sexes and the "dream of a love that is completely free of social restrictions and internalized behavioral rules" is striking.
Some stories are set in a rural and traditional setting, but when they are told they are by no means naively traditional, but often with ironic tones, such as "The Herb" by Amrita Pritam (from Punjabi), in which a very young wife is the victim of the love potion, which the youthful, charming night watchman of her much older husband gives her to drink.
In the longest story in the volume, "The Question" by U. R. Anantha Murthy (from the Kannada), love fails because the protagonist is unwilling to leave her village and follow her admirer, who has been loved since childhood, into town. The strict veto of her foster father and her family sense of duty are insurmountable in the way of fulfilling her love.
The stories "Kahnfahrt" by Palagummi Padmaraju (from Telugu) and "Housewife" by Ismat Chughtai (from Urdu) tell of extraordinarily strong women who are capable of suffering, who despite all the humiliations and attacks with unbreakable loyalty to their weak or criminal husbands stand.
The majority of the stories are, however, set in the milieu of the modern urban middle class, and they are seldom love stories in the strict sense. Thus "The Flammable House" by Subodh Gosh (from the Bengali) deals with the embarrassment of the accidental re-encounter of a couple who have been divorced for years in the waiting room of a train station.
Despite love and the good will to understand one another, in "Flecken" by Manjula Padmanabhan the relationship between an Indian living in the USA and his Afro-American girlfriend fails because of the cultural gap. Deep, the male protagonist, is caught between the loyalty to his traditional mother and the expectations of his modern, emancipated girlfriend. The encounter between the two women turns into a fiasco.
Several stories address the boredom and frustration in marriage. In Ratanlal Shant's story "Another Triangle" (from Kashmiri) there is a special twist: when the common servant, who has become the only link for the married couple living apart in the shared apartment, takes a vacation of several weeks, the old ones wake up Caring and love again.
The story "New Edition" by Marathi author Gauri Deshpande has a lot of wit. The first-person narrator, bored of the routine of being a housewife after a few years of marriage, takes a job at a magazine and soon grows into editorial work. She becomes - financially as well - independent, falls in love with a writer whose new novel she has reviewed, and meets him again on a business trip. The punch line is that this very romantic, secret relationship soon shows the first signs that it is becoming a new edition of the all-too-factual marriage.
Two stories illuminate an unhappy or impossible - because extramarital love - from the point of view of one-sidedly loving women. Varsha Das', translated from the Gujarati story "Kanupriya", is particularly successful. The feelings and thoughts of the heroine are interwoven with the traditional motif of the Gopis (shepherd women) of Vrindavan, abandoned by her beloved Krishna.
Two stories of a satirical character have poor but ambitious writers as their male protagonists. "Thoughts are free and so on" by Dilip Kumar (from Tamil) consists largely of the poetic-prosaic dialogue conducted on the beach in Chennai between the poet Rahul and his pretty colleague Rajakumari from the clothing store where they both earn their living .
"Vikrams Vendetta" by Manohar Shetty (from English) is a funny story about the attempt of a would-be poet from Bombay to get money and at the same time to get revenge on ex-girlfriend Sona for turning him down. He writes - with considerable remorse and with large amounts of alcoholic fuel - a pornographic novel with a Mona as the heroine. The happy ending in this case is that Vikram burns the finished manuscript and begins to write his love story with Sona as a serious novel, which helps him to heal his emotional wounds.
A glossary and brief biographical information on the authors are attached. These two appendices could have been a little more detailed. The picture on the cover, a grim-looking Bollywood film hero and a beauty clinging to him, doesn't really fit the stories.
Conclusion: the selection is entertaining, worth reading and covers a wide spectrum of modern Indian mentalities and literary styles.
This review was published in a slightly abridged version in: SÜDASIEN (No. 01, Volume 27 / February 2007).
Source: Love from India. Modern short stories collected by Sudhir Kakar. Munich (C.H. Beck), 2006, 278 pp.
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