Monday, September 7, 2009

Recommended Reading: Vandana Singh's The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet

Vandana Singh's The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories, which I recently had the pleasure of reading, will appeal to a lot of Aqueduct's core readers. (Big surprise, hunh?)

The collection offers ten stories, each with its own finely grained world. When in the last story, "The Room on the Roof," I came across pov character Urmilla's conclusion "that the world she lived in was not a separate, self-contained thing, but actually an intersection of many worlds. There was the world of the beetle, the world of her mother pounding spices in the kitchen downstairs, the chess world, where her brother battled the evil enemy king, and who knows how many hidden worlds outside her awareness"(181), I found myself thinking that her observation distills a sort of subtext of the collection as a whole. Of course more world than one is evoked in each story, but one of the things Singh does well is give us a sensual taste of the particularities of the daily in her characters' lives.

I'd read several of the stories before and found them well worth a second read. I do have favorite stories in the book, though: the inexplicably powerful "Hunger," the poignant "The Room on the Roof," and "The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet." The latter is a classic feminist sf story that imparted a sense of wonder even as it made me giggle with its sly, not-to-be-denied humor. The story is told from the point of view of the middle-aged Ramnath Mishra, who grows increasingly frantic to restrain Kamala, his wife, who is in the process of becoming a planet, from disrobing in public (and private). Here's a sample:

He caught her just as she was about to run out into the driveway in nothing but a petticoat and blouse, in full view of street vendors, cricket-playing children and respectable elderly gentlemen. He wrestled her into the bedroom and tried to slap some sense into her, but she continued to struggle and weep. At last, frustrated, he pulled half a dozen saris out from the big steel cupboard and flung them on the bed.

"Kamala," he said desperately, "even planets have atmospheres. See here, this gray sari, it looks like a swirl of clouds. How about it?"
She calmed down at once. She began to put on the gray sari although the fabric, georgette, was unsuitable for summer.

"At last you believe me, Ramnath," she said. Her voice seemed to have changed. It was deeper, more powerful. He looked at her, aghast. She had addressed him by his name! That was all very well for the new generation of young adults, but respectable, traditional women never addressed their husbands by their names. He decided not to do anything about it for now. At least she was clothed. (45)

You can buy The Woman Who Thought She Was a Planet and Other Stories here.

No comments: