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Complex Relationships

Mala Pandurang

Edited by Ira Raja and Kay Souter and Kay Souter
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2010, pp. 304, Rs. 375.00


An Endless Winter’s Night presents 19 commendably translated contemporary short stories (and two poems)—all of equal literary merit—written in various Indian languages over the last two decades. The editors explain, in a rather academically—dense introduction, that the common thematic denominator is the complex interstices of the mother-daughter relationship. As they rightly point out, such accounts have traditionally ‘hovered on the textual margins’ of mainstream writing (p. xii). The title of the collection is derived from a Rajasthani proverb, cited as an epigraph to the introduction by Ira Raja and Kay Souter: Mother-daughter conversation, an endless winter night.’ Raja and Souter explicate how this proverb suggests the range of mother-daughter relationships. On the one hand, there is a sense of connectivity in terms of prolonged conversation (‘endless conversation’), while on the other hand, there is a suggestion of the dark and the furtive (‘night’). The editors invite us to be witness to these exchanges, at times intimate but mostly troubled and problematic. The larger number of narratives is presented from the perspective of daughters who recount their tender/bitter relationship with their mothers at different stages of their lives, ranging from childhood innocence to puberty, and marriage to child rearing. In ‘Miriam’ (Esther David) a Jewish daughter replies to a letter she has received from her mother after many, many years. They had both lived in Israel but after her marriage to a Muslim, the daughter sacrificed her Israeli passport for Pakistani nationality. Her mother now lives in a Jewish housing society in Ahmadabad.The story conveys multiple levels of conflict as the daughter appeals to her mother to understand how she has to constantly negotiate between antagonistic countries, families and religions. In ‘No Letter from Mother’ (Vishwapriya L. Iyengar), the child narrator who is at an English medium boarding school has not received a letter from her mother for three years. She regularly receives letters in English full of anecdotes from her father but what she longs for is to hear from her Kannada- speaking mother who had ‘stories in every pore of her body’ (p. 81). In her loneliness she reflects, ‘I wanted something dark, something shining, something wet, language like mother after her bath’ (p. 81). ). In Nirmala Pawar’s ‘A Childhood Tale’, the antagonism that the young dalit protagonist feels towards her mother gradually turns to respect, when her uneducated mother stands up to an abusive ...

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