Short stories, when written well can be impactful and hard hitting, delivering in a nutshell the essence of a bigger idea or thought. Ganga’s Choice and Other Stories by Vaasanthi, (Olive Thornbird, Niyogi Books), translated from the Tamil original, is a collection of 15 short stories that deliver a punch. Vaasanthi possess a rare insight into the nuances of human behaviour, particularly when people are caught at crossroads, in sensitive ambiguous situations.
The characters in each of these fifteen short stories all face a dilemma of a certain kind, and they make certain choices. What strikes the reader is how humanely the author has interwoven these dilemmas. In all, it is the individual against society and established social norms. Helpless, and yet strong, the characters navigate life with honour. Even within the desperate confines of the situation, people are resilient and capable of making choices that uphold their dignity.
The poignant and thought-provoking tales in this book address different themes. Right from problems faced by migrant labourers during a lockdown, women confronting abuse, communal biases that destroy the life of the young, women struggling to express their basic freedoms, the social restrictions that they face at every point of the struggle, sexual harassment and so on, the wide range of themes couple with strong and memorable characters.
What I enjoy about short stories is that little ‘surprise’ at the end, when things take an unexpected turn and then stop. In the story titled “Hands” one muses with the aged protagonist on a life spent by with her husband, never truly connected and yet together. But, the heartwarming conclusion will not fail to bring a smile to your face! Similarly, the ‘twist in the tale’ that accompanies most of the stories in the collection adds value and literary spunk to the deep insightful works.
Short stories also say so much in less time. Ganga’s Choice, the short story that lends its name to the collection, somehow represents, for me, the attitude of the entire collection- that of resilience and trust in ourselves despite the constraints around us. It represents living life on one’s own terms irrespective of society or situational factors.
The tales in the collection have been translated from Tamil, in which they were originally written. While different translators have translated different stories into English, the entire collection retains its authenticity.
“The stories are about lived experience and real characters that I have met – most importantly women, who have inspired me and moved me to speak about them, how they deal with injustices within their social circumstances in most unique ways”, says Vaasanthi. The stories are upbeat, interesting, impactful and filled with nuances that will appeal to readers looking out for something more than a mere story. That’s Ganga’s Choice for you!