Vasanthi was raised in Bombay, and graduated in Journalism there. She is now a long time resident of California, USA.
The writer of mainly South Asian anthologies Vasanthi's stories have been published in (Our Feet Walk The Sky, Best of Gowanus, Bolo! Bolo!...) and a collection of these stories, titled "When Peacocks Dance" was self-published in 2003, the author has been busy pursuing her painting, so has been diverted from promoting the book and would like to reach out to any interested publisher who might be!
'When Peacocks Dance' received favorable reviews in online journals and in
local Indian publications.
The product description in Amazon reads: The stories are short and precise
and written in a compelling narrative voice that draws the reader in. There
are no boundaries here, whether it be the U.S. or India, they all celebrate
women’s lives...In these stories there is an interweaving of the past and
the present while the main characters -–women are seemingly engaged in some
ordinary pursuit of daily life. It's the small betrayals or infidelities in
their lives, whether real or imagined, and their effort in surmounting these
that form the main theme of this collection. Apart from being an accomplished writer she is also a visual artist. (See entry under Visual Arts)
Excert from 'When Peacocks Dance'
From the moment Philomena Narayan placed her foot across the slightly raised doorway, she had been completely enamored of the custard apple. She had discovered a fruit tree in the middle of her new domain. A custard-apple no less! She thanked, eyes raised upwards: heaven be praised for such good luck! Though out aloud she uttered -adopting her spouse’s beliefs: how the gods and goddesses had shined on her! Such blessings they had bestowed on her by transporting the lot of them here. Fervently she called on Parvati, Lakshmi, Saraswati while not taking her eyes off the tree. To the straggling entourage following in her wake, she said enthusiastically: how could any of those tenants outside have any claim, when it was she who was moving in. See! It is ours, she swore in triumph, laying her claim on the custard. And without waiting for their response, she'd plunged on ahead thus singularly enthused.
Her entourage, baggage and family, squeezed through the doorway to arrive into what they assumed were 2 rooms that Krishna Appa had found and rented in haste from the man he called, the decent man. Decent because it had been exceptionally generous of him to have sublet his rooms on such short notice to a family of four when no one else would. The rooms themselves were in an encampment built sometime by the British during their heyday; tucked far into the residential military zone, on the southern-most tip, past Colaba, past Afghan Church, close to the dhobi ghat. The common compound outside was shared by the other tenants of the encampment. Here a jamun and two mango trees stood large and domineering. The custard apple most likely had been planted by one of the English soldiers several decades ago. It looked diminutive, cherished in comparison to the large trees in the compound they’d walked through. It stood with other garden-variety tropical plants, sheltered, in the walled enclosure. A window nearby, set into the walls, looked onto the compound and the outside veranda directly.
In this fashion, Krishna, Philomena, Malati, and Jacinta Narayan moved into 120 Cooper Lane, the beginning of summer. A summer which began mildly pleasant and then lapsed into hot and humid but holding all the promise of impending rain, the expectation of, the general onslaught of the monsoons. And with it the maturing of fruit --jamuns, mangoes, guavas and of course the single custard apple tree that stood to one corner of their tiny, rented, two-room enclosure. But what Philomena (thanking her lucky stars and cramming bodily, into her new surroundings), could not have known was that it had already been claimed.
Claimed by the decent man in 120 Cooper Lane who each morning, rose and bathed in a ritual he followed to a precision. As Philomena was to discover later. It was not as if she was spying on him or from any curiosity as to his personal habits. It was simply because she was the first to rise in her household and enter the verandah (her kitchen) and prepare the morning’s meal. So she’d seen enough to know his ritual: He would walk the two three steps from his room to the bathroom, a thin, white towel clasped in one hand and a 2-strap rubber slipper on his feet. After splashing the cold water from the bucket noisily over his head with a plastic scoop he'd recently purchased, he would emerge fresh, and smelling of Lifebouy soap. Entering his room, he'd close the door behind him, and dress for the day.
At precisely the same time every morning, he would step from the doorway of 120 Cooper Lane and onto the ground of the walled compound, on his way to work. Walking to the far end, through the open gate and gingerly onto the tarred road; bits of straggling hair smoothed fastidiously down on his partially balding head. He wore a clean white shirt, starched, upon his back; and pressed dark pants -the crease in front holding his legs straight, as he walked. Sometimes the pants were a khaki-color or a faded brown. Most days, a black, rolled umbrella clutched in one hand completed his ensemble. But, before he even crossed the threshold, almost like second nature, he'd turn to bid goodbye to the custard apple tree swaying diminutive inside.
The tree appeared shy, swaying beneath his glance. In his fondness it always struck him as such. This day was no exception. However, having bid goodbye, he strode silently ahead. The past few days had been especially trying for him. His otherwise calm and secure world had been invaded; invaded, by of all people, women. This totally startling development had taken him by surprise. How was he to guess that a Mr. Narayan and family would include so many women? Even if some of them were decidedly young, they were women. To think he had allowed this to happen; allowed him, Narayan and family, to share at such close quarters his particular corner of the world, annoyed him. Granted the man had been most persuasive and given his own nature, he would have helped anyone in such a plight. He knew only too well the difficulties of finding accommodation in a city like Bombay. And servicemen where were they to go on their salary? But ahh! to be so invaded by women. How could he have guessed they'd be so many? He asked again in exasperation.
He unfurled his umbrella and held it upright. Heat from the morning sun had caused small beads of perspiration to form on his forehead and neck. It would not do to appear damp so early, before he could so much as step into the building where he worked. He strode on. Striding he passed the bus stop across the road. The no. 23 and no. 29 carried passengers to the city, beginning with Colaba, and onwards, beyond Flora Fountain. He noted the long line already in place for the morning buses. The no. 23 and no. 29, like other city buses, never ran on time. The resulting delays caused the queue to extend in long twists and turns, as the morning progressed. The people, he knew, had no choice but to wait. He shook his head considering their plight. Wondered if he knew anyone standing but did not raise his head to look. He had too much on his mind.
The person who rose to the top was Philomena Narayan. She rose defiantly and unfurled somewhere before him or perhaps above his head. Her very appearance bold and formidable. Not for one moment did she share the normal, everyday image of the respectable housewife. He wondered if her clothes had something to do with this. She wore dresses. Commonly with bright floral prints and open necklines. Her thick arms and legs somehow amply displayed. As she walked, her bosom bulging from inside, shook. As if this was not enough, the too bright lipstick and short bobbed hair collided, struck almost rudely at him.
And how the woman carried on. She was given to expressing her opinion on all topics, small, big, in the most emphatic of manners. It appeared she was not the least bit intimidated by anyone or by the fact that she'd just recently moved in. He wondered too, if the way she carried herself had something to do with crowding the intimacy of his enclave? Her loudness and her size were equally jarring and worse, her interest in his garden. From day one, she seemed to have set her sights on the custard apple. It puzzled him. For the life of him, he could not understand why such a woman would be interested in either a garden or his fruit tree.
He pulled out a plain, cotton handkerchief from his pocket and wiped the beads running down the sides of his face. His action interrupted by the giggles and chatter of a group of schoolgirls. They trooped en masse to the nearby convent school. As they strolled by, he looked in dismay. A vision –of girls in floral dresses and bright lipstick, suddenly rose before him. Rose then diminished. He shook his head to clear the dark cloud forming above. To dwell any longer appeared futile and contradictory. And furling his umbrella, he stepped neatly into the cool interior of the Health & Administrative wing, of Western Regional Command.
Excerpt from “The Custard Apple Tree” a story from the collection “When Peacocks Dance”