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“Of Durians and Vipers” by Damyanti Biswas
“Of Durians and Vipers” is set on a Durian plantation in Bali Pulau on Penang Island, Malaysia. The plantation is owned by Rick, a Canadian expat, who has lived longer on Penang Island than his native Canada and his wife. He is married to a Chinese woman, the daughter of a plantation owner. His In Laws did not initially approve of him.
They have a sixteen year old Chinese-Canadian daughter Connie. Rick’s wife was the one who built up the plantation, ran the household, the durian business and got them on The Durian Plantation Tour program. Now that his wife is very ill, Connie runs the tours. Rick feels more than a little lost. The tourists love to feast on Durians.
Penang is a prime tourist spot for residents of Manila, Singapore and of course Kuala Lumpur. It is a World Heritage destination for the architectural remains of the pre-World War Two era and has lots of beautiful beaches, five star resorts and such. It is also famous for Durians. Durians are but they smell horrible, so horrible airlines ban them. Black and Yellow Vipers live in the trees. We learn their bite is nasty but not normally fatal. Of course nobody wants snakes in the house so Rick’s wife used to make sure the maids kept them out. They do keep down rats and such so they have value.
Rick’s wife is now almost a complete invalid, rarely getting out of bed. They employ two women as nurses, one an Indian and the other Chinese. Rick is very involved in her care. Biswas does a brilliant job letting us see the impact this has on Rick. His wife used to totally take care of everything. We see Rick oscillating from guilt to resentment. Still a young man, he is deeply ashamed of his first ever act of adultery, with his wife’s Indian nurse. I sort of got the feeling she was hoping when the wife passes, to play a role in Rick’s life.
Snakes are all over plantation, even entering Rick’s dreams.
The close is opening ending. Has Rick found a solution to his problem?
“Of Durians and Vipers” is a first rate short story, in just a few pages Biswas shows us years of a marriage, lets us get an inside look at a Durian Plantation, and skillfully develops her characters.
I hope to read more of the work of Damyanti Biswas. There are links to other stories on her website.
This story Is part of The Reading Life Short Stories by South Asian Women Project.