REVIEW and EXCERPT
by Lakshmi Raj Sharma
Author Lakshmi Raj Sharma joins me today to share an excerpt from Intriguing Women, a book of short stories. You can also read my review.
Intriguing Women is Lakshmi Raj Sharma’s third work of fiction. After the success of his debut novel The Tailor’s Needle and his first book of short stories Marriages Are Made In India, Sharma now publishes a second, masterly collection of stories about women in all their infinite – and intriguing – variety. Male readers may learn something useful too ...
The stories have international and Indian settings. We visit Europe, we travel to Afghanistan and we celebrate the rich variety of the Indian continent. These are women who may seem superficially normal, but might not be, and women who strive for normality at all costs. Sharma also raises questions; can a woman reconcile herself to terrorism? How do we react to a woman who kills several of her husbands? Definitions of femininity are examined and magnified through the prism of fiction.
We meet women who despite years of oppression, are smart enough to ride the 21st century successfully, while others are left behind, unable to handle the complexities of modern life. These stories report, reflect and examine the feminine nature.
What is it like to be born a woman, most particularly an Indian woman?
Intriguing stories indeed ...
Watch the seven-part video of the book launch for Intriguing Women by Lakshmi Raj Sharma.
Excerpt from "Bonding"
As she travelled with her newlywed husband in a coupe compartment from the heat of her premarital home in Jaisalmer, her heart ached for Pallavi. Pallavi had everything – hope, charm, untiring energy, confidence, song, dance, the list was unending. With her life was so complete, so exhilarating. Things could never be the same without her. Suparna’s heart wept, responding to the rhythm of the shaky carriage. How could a husband give her anything in comparison? Be born a daughter and you were always another’s burden; first your father’s and then your husband’s. As the train sped through, leaving behind the living sands of the desert, towards the lifeless greens of the world beyond, Suparna wondered why it was so necessary to get married. Marriage was society’s mode of ending the revels of life; it’s method of ensuring that all good things came to an end.
Himanshu could see that his bride wasn’t satisfied with the deal. He tried to smile at her but that seemed to only bring forth the flood of tears that she had dammed inside. He held her hand but she jerked him off. He closed in towards her putting his arm round her and that was too much for her to bear. She pushed him away and stood up in a fury.
‘If I have married you, it doesn’t mean I am sold to you. You and your people have given me no dowry, okay? Just stay away from me!’
‘You seem really angry and hurt, Suparna! Have I offended you?’
‘Offended me? You have ruined me. Why was it so necessary for you to marry me? Were all the other girls dead?’
‘Who could have guessed that I was marrying someone who disliked me so much? Neither my parents nor yours.’
‘But you jumped at the idea, when my parents sent the proposal. A decent man would wait a week at least before plunging into marriage.’
‘How did you get to know that?’
‘Durga Aunty told Mummy everything. If you hadn’t jumped for joy at the idea of the proposal, my parents would have thought a little before tying me up with you.’
‘Durga Aunty wasn’t there when your father pleaded that I marry you. He was ready to give anything we wanted but my mother said she only wanted a good wife for her son and a decent daughter-in-law for herself. Anyway, you are tired. Rest till it is time for lunch. Nothing is lost yet.’
‘Nothing is lost for a wretched man who is carrying away a bride. The loss is always ours.’
‘Ours? You surely don’t mean both of us? Have you started considering you and me, us?’
‘No, my dear! Don’t have hopes. I mean the female species. I can never team up with a man. I am a woman first and anything else later. And I think I was born to set things right for women! Let it be clear from the beginning that I consider you my natural enemy.’
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]
Praise for the Book
"Wonderful stories of individual experiences in love, loss, and relationships, and in finding a place in a world where the expectations of others might not match one's own. The author does a great job of putting the reader in the minds of the characters, who are complex and often conflicted individuals struggling to find the right compromises in life. Very interesting book with relatable themes." ~ Diane Kelly
"A wonderful modern collection that reads a little like the literary classics. Well-written, colorful and thought-provoking." ~ Robin Gregory
"Each story explores romance, lust, sex, wit, deception, manipulation, infidelity, same-sex love, domestic dispute, murder, and war. With the many twists and turns, secrets, and shocking revelations, these stories are a mirror of the world, and readers will, surely, identify with some of the characters because they could be your next-door neighbor, friend, co-worker or relative." ~ Vivienne Diane Neal
"If you like to read a collection that takes you into the consciousness of people, both women and men, this is the book to read. I could see what it is to be contemporary after reading these stories. The pain and anguish of today's relationships are very well balanced with a subtle humour. I laughed through this collection and enjoyed every page of Intriguing Women. Don't miss reading this book of stories." ~ abhijeet pandey
"No doubt Lakshmi Raj Sharma is a master story teller. Intriguing Women is a must read short story collection. There is much variety in these stories, no two stories are alike. The stories contain women of several kinds but are interesting for men and women alike. I am amazed to find how different it is to Lakshmi Raj Sharma's novel, The Tailor's Needle. India is shown as it actually is and so are the other countries in this collection. I strongly recommend this book to lovers of fiction." ~ abhimanyu pandey
By Lynda Dickson
Intriguing Women is a collection of 23 short stories, all featuring intriguing women. What makes them so intriguing? You'll have to read this anthology to find out.
In "Contemporary Woman" Anwar Sheikh is an Indian novelist who travels to England to research the contemporary woman for his new novel.
In " A Visit to My Home" Vinita and Vinoy are from different provinces in India, but they marry for love. Everything goes well for twenty years but, when Vinoy's father dies, everything changes.
In "The Literary Agent" Shubha is a literary agent whose author client shows her just how important the job of a literary agent can be.
In "Bohemian" Supriya and Niloy are married but both are having affairs. The arrangement suits them both, for a little while at least.
In "17-B Englishia Lines" Aruna returns home after twelve years and feels the presence of her dead mother and father, as well as that of a man she has never met. Who is this stranger?
In "Ever Met Such a Woman?" Amit, a reporter, interviews Dan while he is in the hospital. Dan is in India for his wedding and honeymoon, but what went so wrong?
In "A French Bite" Om and Shalini are struggling in their marriage of eighteen years. Shalini meets a charming Frenchman at the market and introduces him to her husband. But does she have an ulterior motive? And what about the Frenchman himself?
In "The Park" Sajid and Sameena marry in haste in London, then move to Paris to take care of her sick father. Only two months into their marriage, Sajid discovers that Sameena has a lover.
In "A Man is for Burning" Gita is a powerful woman who has more than one man under her control.
In "A Postulant Demimonde Existence" a kind man has an encounter with a homeless woman.
In "Bonding" Suparna marries Himanshu by arrangement but is not happy to leave her friend Pallavi behind.
In "Madam Sosostris" Preeti marries Mohan but divorces him soon after. She moves on to Vinod, but will she ever be happy?
In "The English World" we follow the lives of the manager and employees of The English World store during a visit by their prize customer.
In "The Wedding" a man contemplates marriage during the wedding of his ex-wife.
In "A Letter from a Dead Man" Supriya likes meeting powerful men and using them for her own purposes. What happens when she doesn't get the promotion she is expecting?
In "The Company Garden: A Tale about Rebirth" Yogesh and Vipin visit a construction site at night in order to meet the woman of Vipin's dreams, literally.
In "War Drums in Afghanistan" Firoza is trapped in her own home under the watchful gaze of her brother Aibak. When Aibak is away, he arranges for his friend to act as her caretaker.
In "Ah Taj!" Raman and his wife Isabella are visiting the Taj Mahal Hotel in Bombay when an explosion strikes.
In "My Neurosis and Hers" a man traveling by train meets a woman accompanied by two children.
In "Save Our Ponds" Suchitra lavishes all her love on her animals, while her workmate Prateeka is passionate about powerful men. What happens when both women set their sights on Rajan?
In "Bold, Brief and Brilliant" Treena and Manish's marriage is falling apart and Treena tries to sabotage Manish's new relationship.
In "The Skies" Bhasker wants his daughter Nandini to be a star. But at what price?
In "That Empty Feeling" Prabha dwells on the fact that she has recently been widowed.
All of these stories revolve around the common themes of modern ideals, independence, love, marriage, and family, woven through with domestic violence, alcoholism, and infidelity. The women are usually portrayed as the heroes, while the men are depicted as the villains. It's interesting to note the contrast, from story to story, between emerging love and the failing marriage. While the author's prose is wonderful, the dialogue is a bit forced, making those stories with little to no dialogue the best. Some stories end rather abruptly and are more snippets of life than true short stories. There are also a few editing errors. My favorite story: "A Postulant Demimonde Existence".
As the author states in his story "Contemporary Woman", "his novel had to reveal the flesh and blood, not merely the skin, if it was to make even the slightest ripple." In Intriguing Women, author Lakshmi Raj Sharma has accomplished just that.
Warnings: sexual references, domestic violence, coarse language, sex scenes.
About the Author
Born in Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh, in 1954, I have been educated in Allahabad. I have taught English at the University of Allahabad since 1979. I was selected for the Indian Civil Services in 1978 but chose to be a teacher. I married Bandana, my colleague in the English Department in 1982. We have a son, Dhruv, who is an etymologist.
Presently I am a Professor of English at the University of Allahabad. I have taught Literary Theory, Literature and Society, and Elizabethan and Jacobean Drama at the postgraduate level. I was the Head of the English Department for a two-year term which was over last year. I have several scholarly books and articles to my credit in Indian and foreign journals. I wrote The T. S. Eliot-Middleton Murry Debate (1994), the very first book on the subject. The second book on this subject was published from Oxford six years after mine.
My first novel, The Tailor’s Needle, first published by Picnic Publishing Limited, UK, has now been published by Penguin Books India in December 2012. This is also an ebook.
My first collection of short stories, Marriages Are Made In India, was published by Writers’ Workshop, Kolkata, in 2001. This collection has now been published by Publerati (USA) in May 2012 as an ebook.
My short story, "Company Garden: A Story of Rebirth" has been published by Sonar 4 Publications, USA, in an international anthology of stories entitled, Whitechapel 13, in September 2011.
My story, "He and She" was published in an American journal called, Gather Kindling published from Washington DC in 2011.
My story, "A Postulant Demimonde Existence", has been published in [Vol. 1] Brooklyn, an American journal, recently.
My article "Charles Dickens and Me" has been published by the Oxford journal, English, in August 2012.
I was invited to the Brasenose College, Oxford, during the J. Middleton Murry Centenary, in 1989.
I have written and directed several plays which have become an annual feature at the Amaranatha Jha Hostel of the University of Allahabad.
Currently, I am writing four literary novels, one of which is a young adult novel.