Sara Siddiqui Chansarkar is an Indian-American writer, whose work has been nominated multiple times for Pushcart and Best of the Net awards. Her debut flash collection Morsels of Purple with its exotic sounding title immediately draws attention. It is a testimony to Sara’s simplistic style and precision when she explains why she chose the title; in an interview with Helen Rye for Smokelong Quarterly, Sara says that ‘morsels’ represent the concise nature of flash whereas she chose the colour purple to symbolise the feminine, also one of the colours used to depict International Woman’s day. The collection is just that, a celebration and examination of womanhood from different angles – of a girl, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a woman.
The first couple of pieces are based on themes of loss, especially pertaining to motherhood. ‘A Tug or Two’ places the narrator in a café distracted by a toddler pulling her hair, but takes an unexpected turn towards the end. The same theme of missed motherhood runs through ‘Spring Rain’ where a random occurrence offers emotional release to the narrator, and is packed with metaphors. “My feet are mortared to the ground and my eyes are rocks, staring unblinkingly at the lifeless bird…”
‘Baby on Board’ explores the same theme with some incisive observations. ‘The glint of a wide-cuffed bracelet hits my eye as a slender arm emerges from the driver window of the baby-on-board vehicle and presses some crumpled bills into the woman’s stretched palm.’
Sara’s bio includes gratitude to her parents and this is evident in her stories too. Told in the first person, ‘My Wedding Day’ and ‘Migrant Me’ carry a deeply personal tone, ‘Elders bless me but none of their hands carry the same weight and warmth as your palm on my head…’
In ‘Dear Abu’, Sara sprinkles a few details in the initial paragraphs such that the subsequent casual lines are full of emotional resonance. ‘At the house, I‘ll look up at the terrace, then pay the driver and ring the doorbell beside your nameplate illuminated by the moth-filled lamp.’
Social themes also find their place in this collection, particularly the status of the girl child in Indian society. ‘Along The Way’ is about a father who wishes for his son to take him to see the Taj Mahal but discovers a bond with his daughter instead. ‘Mukti’ on the other hand is a well-crafted story of a mother of girls, under pressure to deliver a boy to carry the family name. In Sara’s hands, these social themes blossom with hope and positivity.
There are themes of nostalgia, immigration and the cultural shift in ‘All That Was Me Was Gone’. However, these themes work best when combined with an exploration of food. ‘A Taste of Mango Achar’ captures the narrator’s nostalgia and dilemma when she struggles to rescue some pickle from airport authorities. ‘It’s a mother’s love—simmered in the sun, preserved and packed for a daughter who lives 13,000 km away.’
In ‘I Smelled the Mangoes’ Sara uses the fruit that enjoys a regal status in Indian society and infuses it with childhood memories and power play: ‘As I scrubbed the dinner dishes after eating alone in the kitchen, my mouth watered at the sound of Nitin and Mummyji sucking in the juice and the pulp, at the thought of golden sweetness gushing down their throats.’ The story reels in the reader, who ultimately rejoices with the narrator as she savours her sweet victory.
A similar theme is evident in ‘Rolling Sweat’ where the narrator is adapting to the reality of married life in her new home. ‘The heat of June in India and an elevated mother-in-law status can drive a woman to do crazy things that start to make perfect sense.’ Once again, Sara delivers a story that explores patriarchal conditioning in Indian families while ensuring poetic justice for her characters that may well be denied in real life.
Poverty is explored in ‘The Lunchbox’, where the narrator seeks nothing but a full meal at school lunchtime, and the quest of Renu, a servant girl in ‘For a Chocolate Bar’. Sara captures the stark realities of her characters with a few strokes such as the vivid image that conveys a lot in ‘The Lunchbox’: ‘Her right hand is under a faucet, forming a cup, from which she is drinking water while her empty hand rests on her back’, or Renu’s dread when she hears of a kitty party in the house where she works: ‘Renu cringes at the thought of pink lipstick stains she would have to scrub off the glasses and spoons after the ladies left.’
Sara steps out of her preferred themes with pieces where she infuses life into inanimate objects, transforming them into central characters. The literal and metaphorical ambiguities expertly blend in ‘Rotting’, a well-structured story told from the perspective of a house. ‘The sun soothes my achy joints. It draws away the chill from my recesses and warms my skin, which, once healthy white, has gone ghostly gray.’ ‘I Wait’ is about a vibrant seaside setting, from the vantage point of a statue. ‘I don’t blink at the fizz, or at the salt-laden air, or at the camera lashes or at the birds’ claws digging into my scalp.’
The piece that won her a Pushcart nomination is ‘Adverb’, where this writer whose first language is not English plays with language and manipulates a part of speech to produce a one sentence paragraph, resulting in a heart-rending piece.
The reader realises going through the collection that these stories are exactly what the title implies — bite-sized delicacies wrapped in flavours of love, loss and nostalgia. Each piece bursts with surprise and makes you go back for more.
Asha Krishna started her writing career as a journalist in India, now she writes short stories and flash. She is a proud mentee of the Middleway Mentoring Project, a professional scheme for early stage writers. Her work has been published in print and online. She lives in Leicestershire and tweets as @ashkkrish.