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

Sunday, March 11, 2018

“Red Sari”. - A Short Story by Amanthi Harris - 2004

Website of Amanthi Harris. Included are Images of her Exquiste Art Work

I dedicate this post to the people of Sri Lanka with the hope their country can find the peace they deserve.

Last month I posted upon the award winning novella Lantern Evening by Amanthi Harris.  Today I feature one of her early Short Stories, “Red Sari”. Both works center on a young woman from Sri Lanka who now lives with her parents in London.  In both stories Harris develops very subtly the relationship between the domineering mother who wants to follow the traditions of Sri Lanka and her daughter, trying to assert her independence.

As “Red Sari” opens the daughter, getting married soon to a man not of her heritage, probably English, Mother thinly hides her disappointment, is admiring a dress in one of those glossy bridal magazines.  Her mother insists she must get married in a sari, as tradition dictates.

Soon they go wedding day shopping, in a section of London that almost recreates an Indian shopping district. Harris made me feel I was there.  They stop for a snack and cold drink in a place the mother says “has everything from back home”.  Sri Lanka is politically and culturally a very divided country.  The patrons quietly look each other over trying to decide what “side” everyone is on. 

Harris paints a wonderful picture 

“Winter arrived and I went with my mother to look at saris and jewellery for weddings, to a part of town like a town in India , but with Debenhams and Argos , and Tesco and an Iceland . Squat men walked hunched through the streets, jackets zipped to their chins, and women pushed prams, carried shopping, held umbrellas up against the December drizzle. Old women tottered in sandals and woollen socks, duffle coats tight over sari frills that splashed with rain and mud from the pavement. Among them my mother and I walked, damp clinging to us, a dark grey sky unshifting above. We were headed for a sari shop that was recommended by someone my mother knew, but we stopped first at a canteen selling bhajis, puris, samosas, jellabies and even the rose- pink faluda drink that had been her favourite once.
‘They have everything here now,’ my mother observed.
We went around the counter and chose and sat down to eat, but it seemed strange to have no air conditioning, no sun outside, no squall of horns, no roar of traffic, no coconut trees against a blue sky above the shops. The faluda frothed in her glass, bubbled pink from the red jelly sweetness at the bottom. I almost saw her then, in cafés in Colombo with her cousins and friends, and how she and I might have been able to talk together as she had with them. She sat now, looking around her at the people in the canteen, looking them over carefully, table after table. And the people looked at her”

(Many affluent people from Sri Lanka have left the country because of violence between Muslim and Buddhist factions.  In today’s Washington Post I found the government has declared a state of emergency due to recent sectarian violence.)

They first stop in at a jewellery store but they leave without  a purchase.  The mother says the groom does not even know he is supposed to buy the wedding jewellery.  

The next shop is a cloth store where they will buy material for the Sari, against the wishes of the daughter who wants to be married in the dress from the magazine.

The daughter and mother quarrel over the material but the daughter gives in. 

I really liked this scene in the cloth shop.

“I can’t wear this,’ I said.
My mother turned to the chorus and rolled her eyes.
‘It’s not me,’ I said again.
The women looked at me and seemed to be waiting, as if more was needed as explanation.
‘I don’t like it,’ I said, and a particular type of pause, of something final, settled between us all.
‘This is what happens,’ my mother sighed. She shook her head. The women watched her, listened, breathing softly, their eyes expectant.
‘Back home they would not argue, no?’ my mother said.
The women nodded. They did not look at me, only glanced away, and then at each other. I caught the eye of one who seemed to be the youngest; I caught her just as she was staring into my face as if I was something she had never seen. I glared at her and at all of them. Couldn’t they see what I looked like? I didn’t look right. How could I get married looking like that?
The pitted-cheeked woman’s red lips pursed.
‘You should try to please your mother, no?’ she said coldly”

I will leave the very enjoyable ending untold.  You can purchase on Amazon the anthology in which it it is published Kin:New Writings by Black and Asian Women, edited by Karen McCarthy.

“Red Sari” packs a lot into five pages, family dynamics, immigration issues, bridal jitters and more.  You can see her skill as a visual artist manifesting itself in her fiction.  

Next month I will post on another story by Amanthi Harris, this time one set in Sri Lanka. 

“I was born in Sri Lanka and  grew up in Colombo. Later I moved to London where I have been ever since, with an escape now and then to Paris and to Sint Truiden in Belgium, to Goa and Cornwall and currently the Sierra Nevada mountains in Spain where I am on sabbatical.

“I studied Chemistry then Law at Bristol University, and far more usefully, Fine Art at Central St Martins. I’ve been a terrible trainee solicitor, a very bored editor of law books and a blissfully contented bookseller, writing and making art along the way. I’ve had short stories published, one of which, Red Sari is taught in schools in Sweden and I have also had stories commissioned for and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as Afternoon Readings. I won the Gatehouse Press New Fictions Prize 2016 with my novella Lantern Evening which is published by Gatehouse Press.

I have a Fine Art practice using drawing, painting and 3D and am with the V22 artist collective.
I also run StoryHug an Arts Council England funded project using art and stories to inspire creativity and community.” From the author

Mel u


Mystica said...

The author is new to me and being Sri Lankan I appreciated very much this introduction.
We had a 33 year conflict which tore our country apart but that was between the Singhalese abd Tamils. We've just come out of that one and now seem to be heading into another one. The one you mention. The strife seems to be never ending.

Buried In Print said...

Stories around weddings can be so revealing of customs and thinking. This sounds like a great read!

Another I read last year, which you might find interesting, if it's available to you, is Ajith Boyagoda's A Long Watch: War, Captivity and Return in Sri Lanka (written with Sunila Galappatti). Although written out of his experiences as a captive, somehow this narrative seems to circle above the question of "sides". I found it fascinating. It's also written in very short chapters and is only about 250 pages, so it is not an overwhelming read, in the way that one might expect given the subject matter.