Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction, Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel, Post Colonial Asian Fiction, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality Historical Novels are Among my Interests

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"I Won't Ask Mother" by Kunzang Choden

"I Won't Ask Mother" by Kuzzang Choden (2009, 21 pages)

Short Stories from The Indian Subcontinent

A Reading Life Event


Kunzang Choden
This is my third post for a  new permanent event on The Reading Life.   This event will be devoted to short stories of the Indian subcontinent.   There is no literary culture with roots older than that of India.   I will always admire Edmund Burke for telling the English that they had no right to govern a region whose culture is much older than theirs.  Many of the geographic boundaries that created these countries were created by the British or are consequences of their misrule.       Some of the writers featured will be internationally famous, such as Salmon Rushdie, Sadat Manto,  and R. K. Narayan but most of the writers I post on will be authors on whom there are no prior book blog posts.    There are numerous books and academic conferences devoted to exploring the colonial experiences of India and Ireland and I will look these stories partially as post colonial literature.   My main purpose here is just to open myself up to a lot more new to me writers and in this case most will be new to anyone outside of serious literary circles in the region.  Where I can I will provide links to the stories I post on but this will not always be possible.

Just like the stories I posted on by authors from Bangladesh and from Sri Lanka, this story is about a woman from the lowest levels of society.   There is very little internationally read fiction written by authors from Bhutan, a mysterious seeming kingdom to most outsiders.   The parents of  Kuzzang Choden were feudal landlords of Nobel standing.

This story is told in the third person and centers on Yeshimo, eighteen and the only daughter in a family with three sons.   Her mother has been plagued by  illness all of Yeshimo's life, her father is not of normal intelligence but he tries very hard to support his family.   Every morning she goes to edge of the hill to look down at the school and she wishes so much that she could go to school but she feels she is too old.   It hurts her so much to see the children in their uniforms with their backpacks full of books.   She only went one year when she was in kindergarten then it was decided that she should stay home and help around the house and anyway it is thought to be  more important to educate sons as girls will just one day also be raising their own bunch of kids so why waste money educating them?   Now her mother can do little work around the house (though she can go out for long visits taking some of the families foods as gifts) so she has to do all the house work, fix the boys their meals and keep them under control.

She has a neighbor, a young woman about her age, who was sent to school for the normal ten years.   She, with the help of some family connections, has a job in an office and has nice clothes to wear and has even been able to buy a fancy T V for her family.    One day she talks to the office worker and asks her what it is like to work in an office, she can hardly imagine how wonderful it must be.   It seems the job is undemanding, answering the phone and making copies seems the main part of it, the pay is good and the boss is very kind.   It hurts her so much to think this could have been her.

All her life on all household questions, even though she knew perfectly well what to do, she had always asked her mother about things and the mother was very bossy over Yeshimo.   Her office worker friend tells her about a program to teach people basic literacy.     She sees she can go in the afternoon when the boys are at school.   Then she fears if she asks her mother she will tell her it is just a waste of time for a woman to be educated.   Her mother's biggest fear is Yeshimo will leave her one day to start her own family so the mother keeps telling her how bad it is to be a mother, trapped with children.

Yeshimo decides to go to the school, a voice in her head tells her not to ask her mother.   For the first time in years she feels hope for the future.   The experience of making a decision for herself is very powerful for her and makes her feel free in a way she has never felt before.

"I Won't Ask Mother" is a very powerful story that takes us into the life of a young woman in a place few people know much about.   It is a perfect Frank O'Connor short story!

Author Bio

Kunzang Choden was born in 1952, in the year of the dragon, in Bumthang, Central Bhutan. She spent her early childhood in Bhutan but went to India (Darjeeling) for her primary and secondary education. She has a BA Honours in Psychology from Indraprastha College in Delhi and a BA in Sociology from the University of Nebraska, USA. 

She has worked as a teacher and later for the UNDP in Bhutan. From 1990 onwards, Kunzang has been writing on Bhutanese oral traditions, folklore and women. She lives in Thimphu Bhutan with her husband and continues to research and document Bhutan's oral traditions.

The Circle of Karma (Zubaan, 2005) is her first novel.
Her collection of short stories, Tales in Colour, was critically acclaimed, and her children's picture books, Aunty Mouse and Room in Your Heart were published by Young Zubaan in 2011. 

I read this story in a collection of short stories from the region, The Lotus Singers:  Short Stories from Contemporary South Asia (2011) edited and introduced by Trevor Carolan with various translators.

Mel u


@parridhlantern said...

another great section to add to your growing short story library & another fantastic promotion of a section of literature I'm unfamiliar with.

Rickey said...

Reading story book is very benificial for lot of things, first this is the best time pass for everyone, second, its emerged your knowledge, thats the reason I love to read anything regarding the books, you know? I also participated in some story writing contest but its true that I dont won any prizes but I got so much knowledge from their which is the best prize I have ever got in till in my life

valerie sirr said...

Love the title. I hope to catch up on some of these stories. Looking forward to the links though I know it's not always possible to give them.