The Asian Reporter 19th Annual
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From The Asian Reporter, V16, #29 (July 18, 2006), page 15.
Bazaar of fiction
Imagining a literary sensibility of the South Asian diaspora
Story-Wallah: Short Fiction from South Asian Writers
Edited by Shyam Selvadurai
Houghton Mifflin, 2005
Paperback, 438 pages, $14.00
Shyam Selvadurai has done one mighty deed, both hammering and nuancing together an anthology of writers who share only the slightest claim on some common geography, at some time historically. Forget for a moment that the Indian subcontinent is a thousand-thousand peoples, a cacophony of cultures, an energetic cauldron of ancient civilizations, brilliant human development, and bitter wars. Never mind that some of Story-Wallah’s contributors have never set foot in Ganga Ma. Mother Ganges. What counts is editor Selvadurai’s concept — the wallah, the vigorous marketplace hawker so commonplace to our Old World.
Story-Wallah gives us the U.K.’s urbane Salman Rushdie as well Trinidad’s simply sincere Shani Mootoo; Tamil-Malaysian K.S. Maniam is a few chapters over from Sri Lankan-Canadian Michael Ondaatje. All of them take English to emotional terrains undreamed by our precious planet’s last epoch of colonizers.
"A good many of my relatives," Mr. Ondaatje writes in "The Passions of Lalla," "tormented the church sexually. Italian monks who became enamored of certain aunts would return to Italy to discard their robes and return to find the women already married. Jesuit fathers too were falling out of the church and into love … with the regularity of mangoes thudding onto dry lawns during a drought." So much for the benevolent British Raj.
Twenty-six writers from almost every continent, and a number of runaway tropical islands in between, pack Story-Wallah. Among them are recipients of the highest awards granted writers of their lingua franca — the Booker Prize, the Pulitzer, Commonwealth Writer’s Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize.
So where on the map of human creativity do they come from as a community of writers? Mr. Selvadurai answers this essential issue by saying "my identity … as a writer … my creativity comes not from ‘Sri Lankan’ or ‘Canadian’ but precisely from the space between, that marvelous open space represented by the hyphen, in which two parts of my identity jostle and rub up against each other like tectonic plates."
In addition to the authors mentioned earlier, Story-Wallah also includes short fiction from: Mena Abdullah (Punjabi Australian); Rukhsana Ahmad (Karachi-born Briton); Monica Ali (Bangladesh-born Briton); Numair A. Choudhury (Bangladesh-born American); Anita Desai (Indian); Chitra Fernando (Sri Lanka-born Australian); Zulfikar Ghose (Pakistan-born, London-educated American); Romesh Gunesekera (Sri Lanka-born, Philippine-raised Briton); Aamer Hussein (Karachi-born Briton); Ginu Kamani (Bombay-born American); Farida Karodia (South Africa-born Canadian); Hanif Kureishi (Pakistan-born Briton); Jhumpa Lahiri (U.K.-born American); Rohinton Mistry (Bombay-born Canadian); Rooplall Monar (Indian Guyanan); Shani Mootoo (Trinidad-born Canadian); Bharati Mukherjee (Calcutta-born American); Raymond Pillai (Fiji-born New Zealander); Sandip Roy (Sri Lanka-born Canadian); Sam Selvon (Trinidad-born, British-educated Canadian); Kirpal Singh (Singapore-born Australian); and M.G. Vassanji (Kenya-born, Tanzania-raised American).