The modern short story gained popularity in the nineteenth century with the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, Nikolai Gogol, and Guy de Maupassant. They gave the short narrative its modern form as a compressed story with a unified plot striving for a single effect. Though the modern short story generally concerns the everyday world of realistic events and settings, it can also use complex symbols to suggest deeper meanings. James Joyce, Katherine Mansfield, and Joseph Conrad helped to make the twentieth-century short story a highly polished form, with surprise turns and philosophical depth, in which the character has a revelation.
Anita Desai wrote short fiction in English before she began writing novels. She published several short stories in the 1940s and 1950s before her first story collection in 1978, Games at Twilight. The classic short story of O. Henry or Maupassant, dependent on a tight plot structure, was not however, the short story that Desai chose to write. Her stories are not structured around plot but around character and are more like sketches, illuminating moods, states of mind, and the development of the protagonist’s consciousness. Loosely structured, her stories work through patterns of symbolism, as the repeated images of animals, heat, and twilight focus the meaning of ‘‘Games at Twilight.’’ Her stories often end in an epiphany, positive or negative, a deeper discovery of self or life, like Ravi’s moment of truth.
Indian authors today write in English or in Hindi, the official language of the Republic of India, or in Urdu or Bengali, which are recognized as official languages in some of the Indian states. IndoAnglian literature refers to the poetry and prose by writers in India who write in the English language. They prefer English for a number of reasons. English is associated with the writings of the Indian diaspora, authors such as Salman Rushdie who were born in India but now live in another country. Anita Desai is one of these authors who wrote her early work in India but lives now in America. Writing in English allows for a worldwide audience. Some authors also feel that English can express modern conditions and problems more easily than can the Indian languages, which are rooted in tradition.
Indo-Anglian literature is only about 150 years old. In the beginning Indian authors used formal English to describe Indian scenes. R. K. Narayan is a writer who influenced Desai with his humorous local-color stories about Indian life in his fictitious small town of Malgudi. Mulk Raj Anand wrote harsher stories about divisions of caste, class, and religion. Desai is often referred to as the Indian Virginia Woolf, bringing in a new concern for the inner psychological dimension of the modern Indian city dweller, such as housewives or children or artists. Other Indo-Anglian authors include Salman Rushdie, Vikram Chandra, Kiran Desai, Arundhati Roy, Jhumpa Lahiri, Amit Chaudhuri, Amitav Ghosh, and Vikas Swarup.
Since India gained its independence from Great Britain in 1947, its writers have used the novel and the short story as artistic vehicles to express the contemporary condition of their country. There are many native languages in India, but English, the language of their former oppressor, Great Britain, has the advantage of being a common second language for India’s millions. Through fiction written in English, writers from diverse backgrounds and languages have been able to share their vision and memory of India. With the publication of Midnight’s Children in 1981, Salman Rushdie announced a new and serious art form for India, the secular postcolonial novel. The name of his novel refers to the children born after Indian independence into a different world than traditional India, and it has stuck as a name for a whole generation and way of life. He used a hybrid language— English generously peppered with Indian terms—to convey a theme that could be seen as representing the vast canvas of India. This type of fiction has been used by many famous writers in the last twenty-five years and includes such works as Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things (1996), Anita Desai’s Baumgartner’s Bombay (1987), and Kiran Desai’s The Inheritance of Loss (2006). Desai’s short stories are postcolonial fiction in that they probe the confusion of a people who are both traditional and modern at the same time, the legacy of having been colonized by the British for two and a half centuries.
Sara Constantakis, Thomas E. Barden – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 28 (2010) – Anita Desai – Published by Gale Cengage Learning.