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Apeksha Bagchi

IWB Blogger

Author Chaya Bhuvaneswar Reflects On Issues Pertaining To Tangled Identities, Gender, And Violence Against Women

  • IWB Post
  •  June 7, 2019

White Dancing Elephants is author Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s debut collection and was recently named as a finalist for the 2019 PEN/Bingham award. The collection of 17 stories is set across various time-periods like modern-day Cambridge, Imperial Portugal, and in 1981 Queens. Its characters are as diverse as its storylines but have one thing in common – their insuppressible desire, characters who want and who challenge their deeply mortal existence.

In an engaging Twitter chat with Indian Women Blog, Chaya reflected upon the issues pertaining to tangled identities and gender, and her method of storytelling:


On the short story being different and more liberating from a one-story novel

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Such a great question! In some sense it’s liberating to know that you can see the end of a story telling arc in under 30 pages. In other ways, though, the novel is really liberating in terms of the space it provides, to create both tension and a sense of the “familiar.”

On surrendering to any character/personality overlaps in an emotional thread through all the different stories

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog People say that creating a “distinctive voice” necessarily creates overlap between different pieces that you write…but I think the stories are about such different scenarios and lives (a Portuguese-Indian slave; a Boston psychoanalyst) that the only common thread is resistance.

On being fearless yet tender when writing these stories of resistance

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog That’s a daunting question! But speaks to the importance of art as a mode of communication in which we really can say and “do” things we wouldn’t do in ordinary life. Without this, we would be more trapped in our lives. Art is freedom.

On being non-invasive while storytelling

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog It may be the most useful to examine process. I think if you allow yourself to “just tell the story” without regard for “how it reads” or “how it sounds” or “what impression people will have of you” – the tone evolves to fit the tale. The language follows the meaning.

On allowing her characters to own their space in their stories

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Love the idea of “owning space” and would link this to “resistance” as a theme — in that, it’s no accident, the displacement, and usually comes as a result of intentional dispossession, disrespect, dismissal. Simply by questioning + resisting, characters reclaim their own spaces

On the politics of endurance and racial sexual violence and the price of a trade-off of identities

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog To me it comes down to any pressure to keep secrets, to remain silent about violence because of who might be implicated or shown to be complicit. In that sense there could be “trades” – especially in balancing women’s solidarity w/ revealing violence women can do to each other.

On women’s tangled identity making them more vulnerable and exposed to violence

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog This is actually a really hard question, because I think so many times, victims of violence search for some answer inherent in their identities to the question of “why me” when in fact, I believe that violence has no such rationale, and just expresses pathology by perpetrators.

On preserving the dignity of the characters in her story against victimizing them

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog Another really difficult question and one that comes up in writing about sexual assault…and I guess what interests me is aftermath, survivorship construed in a highly personal and private way. I.e. what does she think of, during and after? What does she hold onto? Of herself?


On her inner feminist voice when talking about religion, race, and sexual orientation

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog The good thing about that feminist voice, or perspective – it’s always there, all the time, so that it’s not something I consciously think about. I will say though that readers educated me about body positivity and the need to affirm a diverse range of body types in the stories.

On geographical boundaries defining and dictating tangled identities

Chaya Bhuvaneswar on Twitter

@indianwomenblog That question is all the more interesting under the current regime/ political administration. I am so hopeful, though, based on direct dialogues during my book tour, that we have tired of “red/blue” state divides, and are ready to just be a lot more kind and see commonalities. 💜

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