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Book Review: In The Convent Of Little Flowers By Indu Sunderesan

Anu Chitrapu

Book Review – In the Convent of Little Flowers
Indu Sundaresan

Anu Chitrapu

Indu Sundaresan is back with a new book but unlike her three earlier books, all historical fiction, the new book is a collection of short stories based in modern India.

The stories are at once simple and compelling. While the easy-to-read, flowing style makes it a good book to read anywhere and anytime, the stories themselves are deep and show a side of modern India that one tends to forget.

The stories cover a wide gamut of topics, all the way from adoption to the practice of Sati to the neglect and abuse of parents. In “Shelter of Rain”, Padmini, an adopted daughter of American parents is faced with a letter from the past, her past, all the way from Chennai, India. The letter from the Convent of Little Flowers, where she spent some of her childhood years, is unexpected and annoying. Sister Theresa writes that she would like to meet her, the daughter of her sister. Indu’s writing successfully conveys the turmoil in Padmini’s head and heart as she waits for the first glimpse of her biological aunt.

“Three and a Half Seconds” leaves the reader shocked and sad. An unsettling story, it shows the stark reality of parents who are abused by their children. Till the end, the story does not reveal what the three and a half seconds refers to and by the time you realize what the title refers to, it is too late to prepare yourself for what is to come. Indu’s superior writing style comes out very well in this story of love, hatred, anger, gentleness and cruelty.

“Fire” is a story with strong women characters. From the silent, tranquil Kamala, to her feisty sister Payal to their evil grandmother, this is an all woman story with each character being completely different from the other. “The Key Club” is an amusing story of some upper class fun where a well married Chennai businessman can’t forget his college love. While the themes of “The Most Unwanted” and “The Faithful Wife” are not new, Indu brings to life the characters in a way which makes the reader relate to them and feel their pain and joy.

“Bedside Dreams”, while very different from “Three and a Half Seconds” is still centered on the same theme of neglecting one’s old parents. This is the only story in this collection whose theme is repetitive with another and this story does not really add anything much to the collection. On the other hand, “Hunger”, does add a new dimension not touched on in any other story in the book. This story starts off on the age old theme of arranged marriages and the power yielded by an “America returned” groom in India but takes a surprising turn for the better, leaving the reader amused but happy.

Most of these stories are based in Chennai, India. For the readers familiar with Chennai this book serves as a good walk down memory lane, taking them on a trip through several landmarks from Little Flower Convent to Gymkhana Club to what appears to be the Indian Institute of Technology.

With this book, Indu has secured a place for herself amongst other writers of Indian fiction. She has shown that she can write as well about 21st century India, particularly women, as she can about 17th century Indian women. Whether it is the legendary love that led to the building of the Taj Mahal or the simple love that a poor mother has for a child, Indu writes about it with the same intense yet easy-to-read style that brings the characters alive, so much so, that the reader can’t help hating them, loving them, rooting for them or even hoping for them.

The book (scheduled for release in mid-December) is sure to bring more acclaim to Indu’s already popular writing.

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