A Review of Impetuous Women by Shikhandin
‘An old neem tree extended its gnarled boughs over the roof which was pockmarked by last year’s hail. Hairline cracks on the roof allowed streaks of sunlight to pour into the hall below.’
In that instant, a mere split second of a summer disk, when the sun seems to have had too much to drink and simply can’t get up and call it a day, and everything else is bathed in a quiet gold.
Apart from the near ripe guava, there was something else that intrigued her. The tree’s peeling bark. Barks of guava trees peeled easily, but this was such a young tree. Besides it was not so much the peeling bark, the patterns it had made. The tree seemed to be full of faces. One in particular, low enough to be at eye level looked like an old man’s face. A smiling and kindly face and when the breeze made the tree sway the face seemed to nod at her and smile like the grandfather she still remembered and thought dimly.
With descriptions like this Indian writer Shikhandin draws you into many stories in her new book, Impetuous Women.
Painting characters, places and situations with words, she brings alive images on the pages. Easy to read and pivoted around women, this cocktail is a mix of humour, poignant moments and spiked with the idiosyncrasies of people.
The collection opens with ‘Taste’ a simple story about two friends, Dimple and Sarita. Caught in a game of keeping with the Joneses-the underlying jealousy and snobbishness of the two women shows through.
With a seducing title, ‘Just Dessert,’ we meet Liese, a German woman married to Dinesh- an Indian living in Mandoli, Shahdara. Liese is a perfectionist-precise in her work, especially when it comes to her culinary skills-her signature dish being chocolate mousse. But then this dessert clearly sends a shiver down your spine.
Shikhandin picks events and people from life around to peg her stories. A rather mundane subject for ‘Threshold’ and ‘The Amma Who Took French Leave,’ is the house maid. Women rely so much upon them that nothing can be more frustrating when the maid does not turn up.
In ‘Threshold’ the disappearance of the maid makes the narrator confront a hard truth in her marital life. The other story-‘The Amma Who Took French Leave’ looks at the less privileged with compassion.
Sometimes lessons on romance are found in the least expected of places as the next story ‘Missing the Movie,’ reveals. A young couple, Girish and Seema on a movie outing get a lesson on love that is far real than the English film they are watching in a cinema hall.
I loved ‘Word among poets’ for its unique narration.
What will a commentary be like when a ‘word’ is a spectator to a gathering of poets? With characters named She- poet, barely- literate professor -poet; owl- poet; doorknob- head poet; executive- poet and Chinny chin-chin poet, this tale has you in guffaws.
Another humorous story is ‘The Thirty-third egg.’ It’s common for travellers to pocket soap and the like during their stay in hotels, but who ever thinks of sneaking boiled eggs. Dipa an egg lover on a holiday with friends in Digha (seaside resort town in West Bengal, India) smuggles eggs into her handbag from the breakfast table of her hotel. And, this egg disappearing act costs Bhola, a waiter his job. Laced with wit, Shikhandin reveals Bhola’s naivety.
A poignant story is ‘Patchwork,’ stitched around the life of Joy and Peace, a couple with two children Merry and Delight Daisy. For the Christian converts, life is not easy. Joy works as a labourer on a construction site and Peace supplements the family income as a tailor.
Springing a surprise this story ends on hope and gratitude for the Almighty.
‘Guava’ a story around a little girl leaves you with a heavy heart though. There are many more interesting stories to check out.
Shikhandin is the nom de plume of an Indian writer who writes for adults and children. Her earlier books are Immoderate Men (Speaking Tiger), and Vibhuti Cat (Duckbill Books). Impetuous Women is the second book under her pen name Shikhandin. Some of the stories from this collection have been previously published in international and Indian publications including Broadsheet (UK), Writing in a Woman’s Voice (USA) The Best Asian Short Stories Kitaab (Singapore) and Out of Print (India). A recipient of several prizes, Shikhandin’s honours include runner up George Floyd Short Story Contest 2020 (UK), Pushcart nominee by Aeolian Harp (USA) in 2019 and First Prize Brilliant Flash Fiction Contest 2019 (USA) to mention few.
Short stories come with the challenge of a restricted space. Shikhandin builds every story gradually, coaxing the reader to invest in them before wrapping them neatly. Shikhandin’s fluid prose and insightful observations of people, places and events draws the reader in. And, as the words on the pages create visuals in the mind, it’s a fly on the wall experience for readers.
Sample these excerpts picked from the book.
The thought lands without warning. Just like Meera’s one-eyed tomcat, which has the habit of dropping soundlessly from the garden wall, casually interrupting the quietness of a day about to curl up for the night. The sun is already sliding down a livid sky and shades of the evening are gathering around her. Ramola drags on the cigar.
She smiled as she took them, her head uncovered for the entire world to admire her kohled eyes, the dimple on her left cheek and the sidelocks that she had oiled and curled into stiff upside down question marks lying pat against her cheeks.
Sleep at long last does come to them, sauntering slowly into their personal space, catlike in its stealth. This time through, they are ready, even eager to welcome their tardy visitor.
The languor that comes after deep physical pleasure melts and merges slowly into tender conversation, both verbal and tactile.
The mixed bag of characters in Impetuous Women come with their imperfections. With tiny details Shikhandin makes some of them unforgettable; others might remind you of people around.
Joy looks strange, like a puppet whose puppeteer, bored of his trade has absconded.
Meera’s tomcat jumps in from the dark and stands at Meera’s feet, almost like a guard, tail raised but not at Ramola. Startled Ramola stumbles a few steps backwards. Meera is quick to extend her hand. The tomcat now lowers its tail and swishes it, watching Ramola intently.
The listeners dutifully nodded their heads in approval, their tobacco-stuffed mouths moving in rhythm.
Sarita, busy working her tongue on the bit that had got stuck to her upper palate, said, ‘Kwaft is evwyware, ya. She finally managed to get the cheese unstuck.”
Actually turned her into a bubbling cauldron of rage; the kind in which thick custard bubbles up in little stinging spits and you have to keep the heat really low to prevent the goop from burning
What makes Impetuous Women a good read is the unpredictability of its stories. You don’t see it coming. And, short stories are like quick bites easy to savour, especially when the first bite is good.
Impetuous Women published by Penguin Viking is priced at Rs. 399 and available on amazon.in.
Mythily Ramachandran: “I am an independent journalist from Chennai, India with over two decades of writing work in leading Indian publications and international too, including UAE’s Gulf News, South China Morning Post, and NoFilmSchool (USA). My writing includes different forms and includes features, human interest stories, celebrity interviews, film reviews, travel writing, and book reviews too. You may check out my stories on mythilyramachandran.contently.com.”