Most of my memories of Jethima are of uninhibited but sacrificial love, delicious and farm-fresh ethnic spreads and her tendency, almost an obsession, of putting everyone else’s needs above hers. An overworked housewife, self-love and self-development take a back seat, and the family’s happiness becomes not just the priority but the whole purpose of her being.
Stories such as these remain untold, and countless other dreams and aspirations secretly die a slow and painful death amid the folds of freshly done laundry; in the many cups of tea constantly brewing for family, distant relatives, friends, neighbours, the farmer, the labourers, the postman, and others; within the household “duties” and the cacophony of guests who have gotten so used to her efficiency and simplicity, that they feel entitled to the free food and service. Some visit to reconnect to their roots, genuinely visit out of love, offer to help in the kitchen and wash their dishes. These are the ones to cherish.
Stories of the women in our own lives, our mothers, jethimas (aunts), aitas (grandmothers), bous (sisters-in-law) and many other relatable stories of the many mysteries and manifestations of love from prominent cities in India across periods have been curated and edited by two Assam origin writers and written by contemporary Indian writers in an anthology of ten short stories titled “Saudade – Tales of love, longing and loss.”
The book has been curated and edited by Jahnavi Gogoi and Jyoti Doley. Jahnavi Gogoi is an Indo-Canadian writer of children’s fiction and poet credited with two book series Be Good, Do Good published by Macaw Books India and Lebanon-based publishing house Dar-El-Rateb; one poetry collection Things I Told Myself available on Amazon, and various other writings like “If this isn’t love…” which won her the first place in 2022 at The Chandigarh Literary Society’s annual poetry competition.
Jyoti Doley is an Associate Professor in English at an Engineering College in West Bengal, a poet and a life skill coach who conducts numerous training programs for Executives and Managers across different verticals in the industry, for tea garden executives and workers in Kolkata, Numaligarh Refinery Ltd Jorhat, IOCL Haldia and Kolkata Port Trust, Haldia. Her focus area is on the importance of communication and its impact on situations and people.
The book features ten unputdownable short stories, and among my first impressions, in addition to this being a good read with stories that kept me hooked until the end, was that it was informative and engaging for people living in or having roots in Assam.
It would also pique the interests of northeast lovers and enthusiasts who plan an itinerary for months to get a glimpse of Assam’s scenery, society and culture. The stories seem like a portal to different places in Guwahati, Assam and other cities of India in different periods and come alive as you read them.
The book conveys with intensity the realities of unique and relatable characters commonly found in Guwahati and across Assam, which helps shed light on the nuances of various types of personalities commonly found in an average Indian’s immediate surroundings. The stories feel lived and get one hooked with the conversational style of storytelling. It delves deep into the personalities and psyche of people in Assam across various strata of society. It’s safe to say the collection of engaging and well-told stories will speak multitudes if you want to learn about the cultural beliefs and social psychology of the Assamese people and Indians in general.
Voicing the realities lurking behind the scrim of social fabrics that women routinely face, Neeta Lagachu Taye’s Lily teleports you to the olden days in Assam, the time of arranged marriages, many of them child marriages. It is relatable to some and eye-opening to others on the sacrifices many women make in arranged marriages to submit to patriarchal norms and the “love” for their husbands which forms and develops over years of parenthood. Women still bow down to societal norms and accept realities they have no control over, only to get dominated and eventually cheated on in return.
Love reigns after years of an arranged marriage, nonetheless but it’s not the kind of love that takes one by storm. It’s the kind that only survives because of the bonding that evolves through parenthood. I love dramatic cliffhangers. Prepare to be perplexed with how life eventually turns out for the protagonist, Lily who bears a similarity and semblance with many women in our own lives, for that matter.
The Snail Shell by Bhaswati Parasar decodes the character traits of our mothers, aitas, pehis and bous. Women in our lives, homemakers in villages of Assam and the whole country in general, are expected to attend multitudes of daily chores at home and the paddy fields tirelessly while spending only a bare minimum if not none of her husband’s income to run the household. More often than not, spending on her needs is out of the question and only a pipe dream. Rural women run homes mostly on food items and other utilities collected from fields and the nearby jungles and lead a simple life without luxury, ambitions or even aspirations.
Songlines by Siddhartha Baruah is set on the banks of the Saraswati River and narrates what could be the story of a woman from India’s ancient history who we are all familiar with and who fascinates the whole world because of her sculpture which is considered an iconic masterpiece and has now emerged as a national mascot of pride and honour. The story is open to interpretation: allow Siddhartha Baruah’s indelible storytelling to help you solve the puzzle and reveal the identity of the historical icon and contemplate what could be her story.
The ending gave me goosebumps as I realized that the protagonist is someone we all have read about, adore and are curious to learn more about. I got a sense of what could be the story behind the longing and pain in the eyes of the sculpture of a stunning woman from our past, one that is still meticulously preserved and displayed to the world. She is a woman that has awed and baffled the whole world and aroused a collective curiosity about her life and story. The breathtaking story deserves a retelling and if the idea of reading what could be her story is tickling you, look for the story ‘Songlines’ by Siddhartha Baruah in the
Pallavi Gogoi’s ‘Elizabeth and Pramathesh’ highlights another social issue, the “rules and restrictions” that are imposed on women during their so-called “marriageable age” to “secure” matrimony. These belief systems are shoved down people’s throats not just in Assamese households, but in most Indian households. Widespread social norms on when to marry, whom to marry and how to marry dictate the terms of matrimony and become a source of anxiety for people in their twenties and thirties. This works against the interests of the youth who are often ambitious. They end up making bad decisions either out of coercion or just out of spite.
“Seema aunties” in every locality brainwash parents with their systematic nagging tactics to coerce parents into getting their daughters married. Society banters and looks down upon people who fail to meet their “expectations” of a partner’s class, caste or nationality. Here’s one such tale, where the highlighted issue would be relatable to many readers and can be witnessed in many Indian households.
Suman Sarma’s “A rainbow in my backyard” brings to the fore the plights of the people within the LGBTQ community who endure social restrictions when it comes to love and sexuality and hence, are obligated to hide their sexuality from the world. If they dare disregard, they face shunning and rejection and hence are forced into living a life of shame and fear. This beautifully narrated story is that of a relatable Guwahati family where an LGBTQ person’s love life and life, in general, are bound by repressed ideologies on sexuality and love.
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The book has been tastefully designed, and the cover art keeps the book above heteronormative codes of conduct or practices. Sketches representative of the stories in the form of an art piece accompanied by a famous quote adorns one full page preceding each story. However, it would have been an irresistible pick and a consequent delightful read for the internet generation baffled with fonts, graphics and anime, if digital art or other popular design tools were experimented with in the making of the cover. That could work as a good reason to convince them to take the leap of faith and make that switch from screen to paper. Nevertheless, we mustn’t judge a book by its cover and this book is a testimony to the saying.
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