Review by Namrata, Interview by Elizabeth Ruth Deyro
Author Chaya Bhuvaneswar was generous enough to not only give The Brown Orient the opportunity to read and review her debut collection, White Dancing Elephants, but also the chance to speak with her about the process of finishing this wonderful set of short stories, and her writing in general.
Reading White Dancing Elephants by Chaya Bhuvaneswar is an experience in itself. Bhuvaneswar successfully weaved various themes of abandonment, existential crisis, stories of migrants, and human relationships across 17 short stories—all of which driven by women as central characters. This collection is simply a treat for every reader.
In Chaya Bhuvaneswar's debut collection, she tells us the stories of migrant South Asian women: each bold and strong, sharing their ordeal. Heart-wrenching and honest, these stories are hauntingly beautiful, each possessing a sort of aching uniqueness. Their beauty lies in the rawness of each tale, the way author has ripped open their hearts and souls for the reader. Leaving us to mend the gaps is truly mind-blowing.
This collection was not made for comfort. It is one that latches tightly onto your psyche for days even after you are done reading it.
White Dancing Elephants is an interesting glimpse into the mysterious world of women. Women are often dubbed as “undecipherable”, and these stories attempt to prove that claim.
In "Talinda", the narrator had to commit adultery before finally coming to grips with her true identity. A "Shaker Chair" tackles sexual harassment in such a way that would make you look at it differently.
The author also frames jealousy as a driving concept; she talks about how women can sometimes become one another’s worst enemy, without even realising it. The titular story is about a woman refusing to accept her miscarriage and believing that she is still pregnant.
These are just some of the powerful, stark themes among the stories. The characters are textured with self-doubt, and odd analogies in the narrative add to the hair-raising effect. Everyday issues faced by women have been picked up by the author, sprinkled liberally with speculative elements and presented to the reader in a manner that makes this book a gripping read.
Bhuvaneswar’s stories are vivid, bringing together different worlds and uniting them with one thread: a woman's perspective. Her writing is honest. Even in chapters where she talks about psychological realism, the words remain poignant. They don't just feel raw, but rather makes readers feel as if they are completely understood, even without complete explanations for them.
For a debutant, the author has done an exemplary work. The stories range from first-person narrative to third-person narrative, and bring out layers of emotions in the stories. The one common point among all the stories is the pain that each main character is going through, be it mental or physical. Their pain feels real, it is palpable in those pages and the words. The author doesn't try to beautify their pain in her words, nor does she try to glamourize their ordeal. She presents it to us, in its naked beauty for us to grasp their depth.
The titles of her story have a tale of their own, such as “The Story of the Woman who Fell in Love with Death”, “Chronicle of a Marriage, Foretold”, “The Orphan Handler”, “The Life You Save Isn't Your Own”, “The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling”, etc. They are intriguing and alluring at the same time. The most amazing part of this whole book is witnessing the emotional bond the author manages to develop between the reader and the characters by sheer imagery. Her scenarios are complex, her characters live a dual existence, adding a realistic touch to them, but her stories remain immersive.
Some of the passages are deeply disturbing, while some left me pondering at large. The way the author has attempted to capture each and every emotion a woman can undergo is truly commendable. Ranging from pain and hatred to affection and jealousy, she has managed it all with equal elan.
A brilliant collection of evocative stories with an air of mystery around them, this book is strongly recommended.