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

Friday, July 24, 2020

The Silent Tree - A Short Story by Neera Kashyap - initially published Mad in Asia Pacific - May 13, 2020

The Silent Tree - A Short Story by Neera Kashyap - initially published Mad in Asia Pacific - May 13, 2020

The Silent Tree - A Short Story by Neera Kashyap - initially published Mad in Asia Pacific - May 13, 2020

In May of this year I made my very fortunate first venture into the work of Neera Kashyap.

I loved her “Leave, Gentle Spirit”, a fascinating story narrated by an American ethnographer living in a small village in the Himalayas. Her mission there is to develop an in-depth understanding of the culture, folkways, religious beliefs and customs of women in the village, she learned to speak Hindi, widely spoken in the area.  As much as possible she lives like the women she is researching..

“Leave, Gentle Spirit" is a wonderful work, deeply informed and wise.  It deals with cultural divisions and gives us a look at life within the Himilayan region

I was delighted to learn that Neera Kashyap has several other stories published in online Journals.  

In “The Silent Tree” we are shown how the death of a husband and father impacts those who survive.  The story opens in an art class:

“Aarav hadn’t liked the art class with the elephant. Suman Ma’am had drawn one out on paper, then cut out its outline and traced it on a bar of soap. Even though Nani had said that the elephant was Ganesha — very strong and lucky for people, Aarav’s drawing had come out all wrong: the body was too thin, the trunk too short, the tail too long. Only its ear had looked good — big, shaped like a heart. Suman Ma’am had used a blunt knife to cut around the outline on the soap, then a paper clip to shave off the extra bits. Hers was a strong soap elephant that Nani would have liked. There hadn’t been enough knives to go around, so Aarav’s elephant had felt weak, more soap than elephant”.

Ever since his fsther recently died in a car accident, Aarav’s mother has been washing her hands over and over (this is a Pandemic story, people are advised to wash their hands a lot).  Aarav has come to hate the smell of soap.  Before his mother leaves for work, she checks five times to be sure the gas is shut and windows locked.  Aarav has come to hate the smell of Lysol.

As he sits in art class he comes to understand his mother’s actions:

“It must have been then that Suman Ma’am’s eyes fell on him in a long glance during art class. He felt the heat rise in the pit of his stomach and suddenly felt what Mama must feel all the time. He didn’t like the heat. It was shame heat — no, not shame heat … fear heat. He knew now and didn’t like it. He didn’t like the fear in Mama either. He suddenly knew she washed her hands to get rid of the fear. She checked on closed windows five times because she was afraid. The same with the gas — if she checked the knob five times, nobody would be gassed to death. The checking didn’t help any. Come to think of it, she did almost everything five times. She even counted five before she switched on the fan. What was it with five?”

At his suggestion, the art class students begin to fashion trees out of plasticine.  Kashyap shows us Aarav’s mother increasing emotional distress impacts him.  It is as if both are trying to erect shields to save them from death.  

The maternal grandmother lives with them.  The ending is very very moving  and real. The elderly grandmother may have saved The  Family.

“The Silent Tree” is very much a Covid 19 Pandemic story.   The News is full of death tolls, advise to wash your hands a lot, keep away from people. An atmosphere of fear is generated. The story has deep insight into a family death can have profound lingering impacts.

I hope to read much more of work of Neera Kashyap.

Neera Kashyap has worked as a newspaper journalist, as researcher and editor on environment and health, and as social and health communications specialist. She has published a book for young adults with Rupa & Co. titled Daring to Dream, 2003. Her stories for children have been included in five prize-winning anthologies published by Children’s Book Trust. As a literary writer of creative essays, poems and short fiction, her work has appeared in various online and print literary journals including Out of Print journal & Blog, Earthen Lamp Journal, The Bombay Literary Magazine, Muse India, Reading Hour and are forthcoming in Indian Literature and Papercuts. She lives in Delhi.

Mel u

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