In the Convent of Little Flowers: Stories by Indu Sundaresan
First things first: Indu Sundaresan’s only (thus far) short story collection (she’s best known for her lengthy historical novels, The Twentieth Wife and Feast of Roses) is definitely an effective read. Many of the stories make you think beyond your immediate world as they temporarily transport you elsewhere (especially when you’re stuck in a middle seat on a too-packed holiday flight). You’ll learn something for sure, and you’ll be thinking about at least a few of the characters after you finish the final page. All good things that make for good literature, right?
But something about the stories, well written as they are, just didn’t sit right with me. Maybe the number of victims – each caught between the bonds of immutable traditions and the lure of so-called modernity – were just too overwhelming … an older couple who find suicide their only escape from their vicious only son, a 12-year-old girl who allegedly agrees to a gruesome death as a human addition to her way-too-older husband’s funeral pyre, another young girl who falls for a boy of the wrong religion and is stoned then immolated by her own grandmother to save the family’s honor, a hard-working man who pathetically bemoans his life because his youngest daughter has shamefully had an illegitimate child, a once well-off older couple blessed with a dozen children who eventually rob and abandon them in old age, a long-suffering ‘good’ wife unwittingly deceived by her incompetent husband and his greedy family …
In the “Afterword,” Sundaresan comments, “So if there’s one thing the stories have in common, it is that they all deal with that intense moment in which people confront disturbing events.” She offers some background behind how she came to writer a few of these stories – a short story competition, a dinner conversation, a newspaper article, and so on. Clearly, the stories have some basis in Sundaresan’s reality, in her experiences. But in spite of the ‘truth’ amidst all that Schadenfreude, the stories also have an element of cloying exoticism that ultimately proves both disturbing and disappointing.