Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Culture, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Thursday, May 17, 2018

“The Wrong Question” - A Short Story by Janet H Swinney - from The Bombay Review - 2017

Last month “Drishti” by Janet H Swinney impressed and delighted me so much I asked the author if she had other stories online that I could read and post about.  Happily she sent me links to two of her stories.

“Drishti” centers on a Life Guard working the beach at a resort in Goa.  In just a few pages she opened up the world of the life guard.  

 “The Wrong Question” is set in a Yoga Shala, a long standing famous center for spiritual teaching.   Today is the Guru’s 95th birthday and a massive celebration is getting started.  One of things I liked a lot about “Drishti” was the very knowing way Swinney contrasted the western tourists drawn by the hedonistic reputation of Goa with Indians who work and visit the resorts.  In “The Wrong Question” she shows western    seekers of wisdom who have traveled from afar to listen to the Guru speak.  Swinney made me feel like I was part of the event in these wonderful lines:

“It feels like a public holiday, the sort of day when everyone heads for the ghat. Long before one gets to the yoga shala, one can tell who’s heading there. Groups of five and six thread their way through the town’s back lanes, dressed in their best. The Western men wear shorts with multiple pockets and sandals that bristle with straps, while the women have been shopping in some over-priced emporium and have chosen cotton kurtas with crude, block printed patterns and over-generous pants. This is their take on authenticity. The locals have a different view. The men are dressed like bank managers in stiffened shirts, and well-pressed trousers; a daughter or a servant has polished their shoes vigorously for them before they left the house. The women are cocooned in silken saris that are as tightly coiled as croissants from the German bakery. Sleek plaits, as thick as tyre tread, hang down their backs and wag across their backsides. On street corners, the fruit and vegetable vendors uncloak their barrows, wondering what trade they might attract at this early hour of the morning.”

The Guru has developed a fondness for sweets and it seems every devotee wants to place a garland on his shoulders.  People have come from all over the world to hear him speak.  I really like the brief vignettes of several western, they seem English, letting us see how the teachings of the Guru impact them:

“The guru begins to recite. They all press their hands together in prayer and look sternly into their chests, joining in dutifully.
‘Yogena cittasya padena vacam…Malam sarirasya ca vaidyakena….’
With the culminating ‘Om,’ they breathe a collective sigh and look up at him expectantly.
‘You see,’ he says, settling himself to the task in hand. ‘What is yoga? This is what I want to say. Yoga is the controlling of the activity of the mind. Only if the mind still does your true nature emerge. No matter where you come from, whether East or West, your mind is full of this and that. Taking your children to school every day; doing your job at the office; worrying about your promotion; cooking your husband’s dinner. So many things are there. So many small decisions also: rice or naan; paneer or gobi; trousers or pyjamas. But while your mind is busy over there, there is no peace, there is no stillness. It’s like the machine, so many of you Westerners use in the gym, or like the buffalo grinding corn in the village. People are thinking: how can I stop this treadmill? How can I get off? Am I right?’
Members of his audience acknowledge that he is.
‘So what to do?’ He pauses for effect. ‘First, we must know that the mind can be managed. There are so many managers these days.”

Swinney is a very talented artist with a deep feel for her subjects.

Next month I will post on a third of her stories.  In August The Lakeview Journal of Literature and The Arts,  I am an Advisory Director, publish one of her stories.

I hope to read many more of her works

I greatly enjoyed this story and endorse it to all lovers of the form.

Author supplied data

Repentant education inspector, based in London but with ties in India.
Eleven of her stories have appeared in print. The most recent of these, 'Political Events Have Taken a Turn,' appears in ‘The Sorcery of Smog.’ (Earlyworks Press 2018). Other stories have appeared online in ‘The Bombay Literary Magazine’, ‘Out of Print’, ‘Joao Roque’ and the ‘Indian Review’.
She was a runner-up in the London Short Story competition 2014, and nominated for the Eric Hoffer prize for prose 2012. Her first collection of stories will be published shortly by Circaidy Gregory Press. She is currently working on a play based on stories by Manto.
Find her on Facebook at Janet H Swinney – Addicted to Fiction, or at

Mel u

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