I will be honest. I enjoy reading books on India: narratives and stories set in the small towns and villages or those of Indians in Diaspora, or reminisces of rural Indian life or of a bygone era. And if the recent spurt of books in this genre is any indication, we can be assured of a succession of feasts in future. For apart from catering to the expatriate Indian population, for whom South Asian themes with familiar-sounding names and events make for enjoyable reading, these books have also opened India to the world. Suddenly sitting by the Berlin Wall reading of the sweltering Bombay heat and the tangy mango chutney is not so incomprehensible, after all.
Vasanthi Victor’s collection of short stories in When Peacocks Dance portrays an India with many faces. Whether it is the India of a newly arrived wife in the US or of a Bombay housewife or a mother traveling by train, or another milking the cows in the family cowshed, her stories are a kaleidoscope of activities and events in women’s lives. It seems as though we are looking at a canvas depicting scenes from ordinary life. One can almost feel the taste and textures, be it that of the warm stream of milk from the cow’s udders, or the smell of rain on the dusty plains, or the puddles on the soft earth, or the hot Indian summer, or the cool plush seats of the luxury car of the immigrant family.
Through her short stories the writer also seems to have achieved a sort of continuum; her stories without boundaries seem to merge into one another to form this larger fabric. Philomena and Neelima, living continents apart and featured in different stories, resonate a similar yearning; for one this takes the form of a custard apple while for the other it is an escapade to her mother. And while Kunjamma fresh grated white coconut certainly tastes different, it can sit beautifully next to Asha’s treat from Baskin-Robbins. But these and other treats, such as those jars of goodies that the ammas and dadimas keep in their kitchens, offer, needless to add, no match to the treat of getting drenched with the first descending rains after the hot listless Indian summer. For the next best treat, read this book.