In a cheeky reversal of the title, a curly pictogram on the cover of this collection of twelve short stories shows a small elephant in the womb of a large basket! Formed out of Telugu alphabets, it is symbolic of the way author Gogu Shyamala, senior fellow at the Anveshi Research Centre for Women in Hyderabad, uses her expressive prose to convert caste and gender oppression into stories about human dignity.
The sky darkens as “if a thousand crows had flocked to the clouds”; young boys cavorting in a pond entertain four teachers visiting from the city and a little girl is saved from becoming the district’s “jogini”—a kind of temple prostitute—by her family’s sacrifice. A village tank laments the days of its glory when it occupied thirty acres instead of thirty square yards. Drummers returning from a funeral play an enchanting variation of hide-and-seek in the fields when their bus breaks down. Vicious landlords and bleating goats, iron-willed grandmothers, hard-working children and fragrant fields of jowar ripening in the sun provide warm, sensuous images of a world far removed from our garbage-strewn, traffic-choked and neon-lit cities.
Back-of-the-book notes explain the Telugu words sprinkled all through the text as well as the social context in which the stories are set. Nine translators worked on the book, but no overall editor is named. A pity. It would be nice to know whom to praise for this elegant and thoughtfully designed volume.