Short stories are like a perfectly brewed steaming cup of Adarakwali Chai on a winter afternoon. It is over before you know. As you long for a little more, you hold the warm cup between your palms but you cherish the aftertaste and in that interim, you need nothing else. In today’s time when a lot of us are reading on our hand-held devices juggling between several roles, short stories can be the perfect go-to literary form. Here is a look at some Indian women who have aced writing in this form.
Her unapologetic language will definitely unsettle you. Chughtai’s Urdu short story Lihaaf is one of her best-known works. Never known for mincing her words this story also landed her in an obscenity trial and took her all the way to Lahore. Lihaaf is the story of the neglected wife Begum Jaan and her masseuse Rabbu. Chugtai unabashedly talks about female desire and her characters are not ashamed of acting upon them and that is what makes her works so special. Gainda, Til, Gharwali are some of her other well-known works in this format. She was awarded the Padma Shri.
The Padma Vibhusan awardee, Devi largely wrote in Bengali but her works got translated into several other languages including English. The focus of her writings remained the marginalised, specially the women. Her most acclaimed short story is Draupadi. Dopdi the central character faces unimaginable violence but retains her sense of agency in the face of all that. Mahasweta Devi wrote around 20 short stories collection.
Though her novel Prothom Protishruti for The First Promise remains her most notable work, Ashapurna Devi has written for 3000 short stories. Refugees, migration and women have always been the focus of her stories. She wrote children’s stories also. Devi was honoured with the Jnanpith Award and the Padma Shri.
Popularly known as Ainie Apa, Qurratulain Hyder’s short story collection Patjhar ki Awaz (The Sound of Falling Leaves) is well known. She had written two other collections Shishe Ke Ghar and Roshni kī Raftār. Hyder’s works are often located in history and talk about Indo-Muslim cultural heritage. She is also well known for translating many famous English works to Urdu.
Known by her pen name Mamoni Raisom Goswami, she published her first collection of short stories Chinaki Morom while she was still a student. Several of her short stories have Delhi as a background, where she taught Assamese at the Delhi University. Her works speak about women and the cultural and political aspects of the Assamese society.
A Jnanpith Award winner Sobti’s was a voice in contemporary Hindi prose that was very hard to ignore. Her works deal closely with issues of female identity and sexuality. Some people believed she used too much profanity in her writings. Critics also called her out for being obsessed with sex, however, descriptions of sex in her works were always from the woman’s perspective. Some of her well-known short stories are Nafisa, Sikka Badal Gaya, Badalom Ke Ghere.
Noted poet and Malayali short story writer her popular collection, The Kept Woman And Other Stories was published in English posthumously. Her writings were considered controversial as she openly spoke about the societal restriction on women and challenged conventions.
Deshpande is well known for her presentation of a middle-class Indian woman who is constrained by society. She forayed into literary writing as a short story writer. The context of her stories are always Indian but she talks about universal issues like the predicament of human relationships negotiating gender stereotypes.
Novelist, short-story writer and children’s author Desai’s story the Games At Twilight is one tale almost everyone is familiar with. The theme of childhood, innocence and disappointment and the visual imagery of the twilight runs so beautifully in this story and keeps you hooked. Diamond Dust is another of her short story collection. She has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize thrice.
CS Lakshmi who wrote under the pseudonym Ambai has a distinct style of writing. Her short story Siragukal muriyum (Wings will be broken) got a lot of critical acclaims. She is a well known feminist author known to have an eye for detail. Her short story Squirrel set in a library is a must-read tale of how women’s writings were treated as secondary. Veetin mulaiyil oru samaiyalarai (lit. A kitchen in the corner of the house) is another of her short story collection.
Urmila Pawar is a Dalit and feminist writer and activist. Her works beautifully highlight the class, caste and gender issue. Pawar’s short stories Kavach and A Childhood Tale are widely read. Her autobiographical work Aaydaan (The Weave of My Life: A Dalit Woman’s Memoirs translated by Maya Pandit) is one of her most celebrated works.
American author of Indian origin, Jhumpa Lahiri is best known for her short story collection The Interpreter of Maladies. It won her the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award. She has another collection of short stories called the Unaccustomed Earth. Lahiri’s work explores the Indian immigrant experience in the US. A lot of her writing focuses on the struggles of raising a family in a culture which is starkly different from your own.
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni
Indian American author Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni who is well known as a poet and novelist has also written some fine short stories. Her collection called the Arranged Marriage won the American Book Award. The 11 stories in this collection are all led by protagonists who are female. These women have immigrated to America from India and are negotiating between the two cultures.
Pariat’s debut collection Boats on Land won the 2013 Sahitya Akademi Young Writer Award for the English language. She was born in Jorhat, Assam and grew up in Shillong Meghalaya. Her stories talk about the Northeast, its folklore, Khasi life, traditions and the politics.
The 29-year-old girl from Ranchi Kritika Pandey recently won the 2020 Commonwealth Short Story Prize for her story The Great Indian Tee and Snakes. The story revolves around a Hindu-Muslim couple. A simple tale a Hindu woman who helps her father run a tea stall falling in love with a Muslim man who visits her stall highlights the nexus of India’s communal prejudice and intolerance.
This list is indicative only and non-exhaustive.