Short Story – Janu, The Mountain Bird

Janu and I were school mates. It is a shame to call it a school. A shed with thatched roof, leaking in monsoon rains, with three teachers who have to teach in all four standards, as our science teacher had been transferred elsewhere.

Janu was senior to me, but she failed twice and we became class mates.

My Papa worked in the gulf and came home only rarely.

Janu lived in the next plot in a hut, with her parents who were daily wage earners, doing odd jobs. She was helpful to Ma, in household work. I helped in her studies, as she was weak in all subjects.

The hills where we lived were full of small streams and wild trees. Janu and I would roam about, plucking fruits and berries. With my sling, I could accurately aim a mango, even at a good height and bring it down with a stone. And the mangoes were really very tasty. We used to share everything, leaving our parents’ share.

Hare, porcupines, wild fowl, honey etc. were also available occasionally.

Or we would catch fish. Janu was expert in catching them in the streams. They were not big, but that is all we had, as the nearest market was miles away.

There was a post office, two miles from our school. As the post man was reluctant to walk every day, he would come only once a week. I would carry Janu on my bicycle and bring letters and kitchen items on other days. Ma was reluctant to send me alone as I was too small, though I felt I am big enough.

One day Janu noticed a big ball of something I had not seen before. It was full of fibre and Janu could easily break it. She said it was wild elephant’s dung and we should hurry home, as the animal was near by.

We had hardly moved a few yards, when she suddenly pulled me and we climbed a hill, from the top of which we could espy the surroundings. I was panting. She held me close and asked me to look at the stream below.

I could not believe my eyes! There were a dozen of these animals, big and small, swimming and playing in the water. When a kid tried to escape on to the ground, its mother pulled it down. I felt sorry for it, but Janu said it was necessary that it must learn swimming. When Janu knew it was safe, we came back home.

One day we were bathing in the stream. I noticed that she had breasts like lotus buds. The circles around the tips were small and pink. Ma’s were dark. I asked her why it is so. She just smiled and kissed me.

On our way from the post office, a truck stopped near Janu. The driver took her bodily and was about to get back into his cabin. All were watching and the girl was yelling and shouting: leave me alone.

I always carried my sling and a small bag full of stones. In no time, a big stone hit the driver’s back. He fell down and we both hastened home. Thereafter Janu was not allowed to go to the post office. I became a hero.

As standards 5 to 7 were added to our school, I pleaded with my Papa to allow me to complete my studies there. I did not want to leave Janu.

We extended our mountain walk to hills several miles beyond, carrying our food with us. Once we noticed a man in pants and shirt coming with a tribal woman, completely naked, except for a few leaves around her groins. Janu indicated to me to hide ourselves in the bush and watch. They looked around and seeing no one in the surroundings, the woman lay down on the grass. The man removed his pants and inserted his big penis into the hole between her thighs. Then he went on putting it in, withdrawing and repeating the process for some time. Afterwards, he gave her some money and they went away.

I asked Janu what all this meant. She was very excited.

She asked: do you want to do it? Come.

Then she too removed her skirt and asked me to pull off my under wear. She lay down and parted her thighs wide, exposing the slit, which was pulled apart with her two hands. Do you see a hole?

I saw one, very small, through which I could insert only the tip of my penis. She then pressed my buttocks hard, against her groins, when my penis entered her hole completely. I experienced a heavenly feeling.

Then I knew what to do.

The climax was so thrilling that we wanted to do it every day.

I asked her: how did you learn this?

Sometimes my parents did thus, in day time too. Then I watched it through the key hole of the door.

But our “honey moon” was cut short by fate.

My Papa uprooted Ma and myself from the mountains and took us to Dubai where I completed my studies and started my own business. I was married ten years ago. We have no issues.

Are you still thinking about the mountain rat?

My wife awakened me from my pleasant reminiscences, offering me a cup of hot tea.

Don’t call the innocent girl a rat, I protested.

She new something about Janu; I said nothing about our secret encounters.

She asked: Why don’t you search her?

I wrote letters to the post master; he never replied.

She: Next time we go to India, we must go personally. I too want to see her.

So we searched the maps and located a point in the Vindhya ranges. We had to contact the forest officials who helped us to reach the post office.

The area is changed beyond recognition. Motorable roads and terraced buildings were not uncommon.

Near the school was her hut, still without any change. I hastened there and was shocked to see an old woman without teeth, her hair all white and the face crumpled with creases….Is it Janu?

She came and rested her face on my shoulder, wetting my shirt with profuse tears. I tried in vain to hide my tears.

Janu was wailing: I lost all. First my only son; then my husband.

I did not know what to say. I gave her thousand rupees and we departed, promising to come again.

Indian Short Story in English – A Survey

Murli Das Melwani: Themes in the Indian Short Story in English: An Historical and A Critical Survey. Bareilly: Prakash Book Depot, 2009. Pages 207. Price: Rs. 175/-, ISBN-978-81-7977-323-9.

As Murli Das Melwani states in the Preface, the aim of the book is to draw attention to the genre of Indian Short Stories in English by critically surveying its historical development from 1835 to the present. He delineates the characteristic thematic features of various authors in seven sections divided into several sub-sections. However, as the writer says in the Preface, “The scope of this book is limited to stories collected and published in the book form.” Neither the book includes uncollected published short stories, retold stories, fairytales and long short stories, nor does it include translated short stories.

In the ‘Introduction’, Melwani traces the development of short story from Kathasaritsagar to Raja Rao without excluding its development as a form in the West. He takes into account early practitioners such as E.T.W. Hoffman, N. V. Gogol, Merimee, Balzac, Gautier, Edgar Allan Poe, Ambrose Bierce, Stephen Crane, O’Henry, and H. G. Wells etc in the West and Sudhin Ghosh, R. K. Narayan, Raja Rao and others in India.

The first section entitled ‘The Beginnings:1835-1935’ includes authors such as Pallab Sengupta, Soshee Chunder Dutt, Cornelia Sorabjee, S. B. Banerjea, Dhan Gopal Mukerji, A. S. Panchpakesa Ayyar, C. T. Ramabhai etc. These early Indian writers in English paved the way for the great trio of Indian English Fiction, namely Mulk Raj Anand, R.K.Narayan, and Raja Rao who are all discussed separately in Section II of the book. In ‘The First Flowering: 1935-1945’ Melwani includes such other writers as Manjeri S. Isvaran, Khwaja Ahmad Abbas, Ela Sen, and Louis Gracious who enriched the nationalist movement of the period with their writing.

Section III deals with several celebrated authors of 1950s such as Attia Hossain, Khushwant Singh, G. D. Khosla, and others who reflected on human characters vis-à-vis economic development in the early phase of Post-Independence India.

Section IV, ‘The Second Flowering: 1960-1970’ deals with some well known writers such as R. P. Jhabvala, Bunny Reuben, Ruskin Bond, Bhabani Bhattacharya who are less moral but more satirical and paradoxical in their treatment of themes.

Section V is aptly titled as ‘The Blossoming’ because it covers the plethora of short story writers such as Padma Hejmadi, Keki N. Daruwalla, Anita Desai, Hamdi Bey, Kamala Das, Arun Joshi, Manohar Malgaonkar, and others who flourished during the 1970s and 1980s.

They deal with a variety of themes such as changing ways of small town Indian life, human psyche, parables, politics, the army etc.

The following chapter, Section VI ‘An Extended Spring’ takes into account contemporary writers such as Vikram Chandra, Amit Chaudhuri, Githa Hariharan, Anita Nair, Uma Parameswaran, Meher Pestonji, and others who contemplate on themes such as mystery, fantasy, migration, homosexuality, tradition versus modernity etc.

The final section ‘The Prospect’ provides details about the history of publishing houses. It also mentions the neglected women publishers such as Kali, Katha, Stree, Tara, Tulika, Yoda, Karadi, Zubaan, Women Unlimited, and Biblio. It also talks about the future of Indian Short Story in English. The section reflects on absence of literary prizes in India and mentions positive developments such as Vodaphone Crossword Book Award, Indiaplaza Golden Book Awards, Readerr’s Choice award etc for promoting short story writing and reading.

One of the significant features of the book is that it includes details about the lesser known writers along with well known writers. Critical surveys generally cover only the well known names.

The Bibliography can be of great help to researchers because it provides detailed information about anthologies of short stories from the time as early as 1908.

On the negative side, however, the book excludes mention of some well known contemporary writers such as Jhumpa Lahiri, Arundhati Roy, Farrukh Dhondy, Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, Rohinton Mistry etc. The book would have been strengthened with their discussion even if the motive of the writer may have been to acquaint the readers to lesser known names which most books tend to ignore. Yet, it is a significant publication, useful to every researcher and students of Indian English Writing.

(jointly with Sudeshna Pandey, M.Phil Researcher)

Short Stories in Hindi

Short stories in India have their origins in oral story telling which were handed down from one generation to the next. Short stories tend to be more concise and brief. Just like short stories from different countries and languages, short stories in India talk about different kinds of social, cultural and political issues while also tapping into a large audience which enjoys topics of love, romance, comedy and action.

From the very beginning, Indian literature was blessed in abundance with fables, fairy tales, mythological characters in every language and dialect possible. Many short fiction stories were translated from one regional dialect to the other to make them popular. Fakir Mohan Senapati is credited to have most probably written the first Indian short story. It was entitled ‘Lachmania’ and was published in 1868. Written works were published in periodicals or journals. During that time there was a large demand for them as people preferred complete stories to novels which were published in parts in these journals.

The first Hindi short story seems to have emerged in the 1900’s. The first volume of the ‘Saraswati’ is said to have published the work of Indumati by Kishori Lal Goswami. However some historians say that the idea of the story was taken from a Bengali story, if so, then due credit for the first Hindi short story should be given to Ramachandra Shukla’s ‘Garaha Varsa Ka Samay.’ During India’s independence struggle, Hindi short stories focused on the lives of ordinary men and women who were depicted with lots of love and feelings while other stories dealt with human misery and helplessness brought about due to foreign rule.

Stories were written with different themes in mind. From Madhav Rao Sapre’s ‘Eka Tokri Bhar Mitti’ which tells of the trials of a poor widow and a wealthy landlord, to Chandhradhara Guleri’s ‘Usne Kaha Tha’ a story dealing with love and life and told with vividness and clarity from the very beginning. Other forms of short stories include the exchanges by Akbar and Birbal, many of which have become folk traditions and are an integral part of the Indian tradition. The fables of Panchatantra are extremely popular even today and are considered to be as old as the Rigveda.