The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories


short fiction by Aparna Kaji Shah

120 Pages
September 24, 2018

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The Scent of Mogra and Other Storiesis a collection of four short stories about strong female characters dealing with difficult life-changing situations. The turmoil that they face is, often, the result of a social structure that discriminates against women. Through these powerful women characters, the stories reflect attitudes and ways of life in a village in India, and in modern day Mumbai; they highlight the values of an older generation, and the dreams of a new one. Beneath all their differences, The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories illuminate the quality of women’s lives, exposing the pain, the injustices, as well as the triumphs that make up their existence.

“These stories explore women’s souls. A bride writes letters that record her own “vanishing” in the prison of her marriage. Other women’s lives are determined by the living and the dead as they make “homes in many cities” from the Sabarmati River to Lake Ontario. Spirits, memories and dreams live inside their pressing realities. The world needs all our stories and Aparna Kaji Shah tells hers with honesty and poignancy in this new collection.”

—Kim Echlin, author of The Disappeared and Under the Visible Life

” The stories in this collection are touching and give readers a glimpse into the inner world of the modern Indian woman as she traverses different spaces.”

—Namita Devidayal, author of The Music Room, Aftertaste, and The Sixth String of Vilayat Khan

“Aparna Shah writes with sensitivity and insight. These stories spin a magical tapestry woven with themes of unrequited love, mortality, immortality and spirits that endure.”

—Shilpi Somaya Gowda, bestselling author of The Golden Son

Aparna Kaji Shah was born in Mombasa, and grew up in Mumbai. She has a Master’s degree in English and Aesthetics from the University of Bombay, and an M. Phil. in English from SNDT University, Mumbai. After she moved to Canada in 1985, she obtained a B.Ed. from the University of Toronto. She and her husband, and their family, have lived for various periods in the UK, India, and Singapore. She and her husband returned permanently to Canada in 2013 and continue to live in Toronto. Her fiction has been included in several anthologies. The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories is her debut collection of short fiction.

4 reviews for The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories

  1. inannaadmin

    The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories by Aparna Kaji Shah
    The Miramichi Reader – December 8, 2018

    Innana Publications of Toronto is celebrating 40 years in the publishing industry, and they continue to publish a plethora of excellent titles year by year, many by first-time authors as is the case here. The Scent of Mogra is a collection of six short stories of Indian women dealing with age-old issues in a modern world by Aparna Kaji Shah, who was born in Mombasa and grew up in Mumbai. She and her husband now live in Toronto.

    Age-old Issues

    The first story, called Maya is about a woman who, as she approaches fifty, has never married or even had much of a romantic life. It has been about studying and caring for her mother. Then one day she meets Rahul at an art gallery and a friendship results. Despite many “dates”, there is no romance only friendship, much to Maya’s chagrin. A trip to Canada only makes her realize how much she misses India. However, she meets Mark, a Canadian doctor who shows her some much-needed interest, but is it too late? She leaves Canada soon to return to India. Will she lose Mark’s interest?

    The Last Letter, is perhaps the saddest of all the stories in The Scent Of Mogra. Surekha, who now lives in Mumbai, is originally from a small rural community. She has married Anand (it was an arranged marriage), who has a job there. They are living a modest life in a cramped apartment building, and Surekha writes letters to friends and family back home. Written entirely in her letters, they gradually increase in desperation as she relates instances of Anand’s drinking, staying out late and possible infidelities. Eventually, Anand allows Surekha to work outside the home. Her supervisor Suresh shows more than a passing interest in her, much to her delight. Soon, she finds she is pregnant with Anand’s child, but it results in a miscarriage.

    She writes her brother:

    I don’t know how long I can stand this prison. The walls are closing in on me and my world is collapsing. I’ve changed, Brother, I’m no longer the younger sister you knew. I’m exhausted and drained. Not just physically because of the miscarriage, but emotionally, mentally. I’ve forgotten what it is to joke, to laugh, to tease. What will it take to bring back the old Surekha, you ask. I need to be loved and cared for and only my family can do that. My husband is cruel, even though I have done nothing. Yes, I did lose my child, but it is not my fault.

    Living so far from friends and family makes it difficult for either to come to Mumbai to visit Surekha. Her best friend gets married and lives happily, and Surekha cannot attend the wedding. There are implications of abandonment by those she loves. She is imprisoned by her circumstances, and it continually spirals downward, until she decides to take affirmative action to ameliorate her predicament.

    The title story is a wonderfully wrought tale of India, old and new, with reincarnaton as a central theme. The deceased mother Sushmita tells the story of her daughter Tina, as well as that of Princess Megha, a previous incarnation of Tina. This goes back to the pre-colonization of India. Princess Megha is to marry Prince Uday, the soon-to-be ruler of his father’s kingdom. However, after marriage, Uday begins to lead a decadent life. Sushmita muses:

    So often, the same problems follow women across generations, across cultures; a princess in Emperor Akbar’s court in the sixteenth century may have been betrayed by her prince, just as now, my Tina feels the anguish of her husband’s infidelity. And we have seen Megha, somewhere between those two eras, suffering in the same way.

    The Scent of Mogra (the story and the book) truly shows the strengths of Ms. Kaji Shah’s writing ability as well as her insight into the problems that face all women, but particularly those of the Indian subcontinent, even to this day. Inanna is to be applauded for their commitment not only to feminist literature but in publishing authors such as Ms. Kaji Shah, who open up other worlds to western eyes and minds.

  2. Renée Knapp

    The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories by Aparna Kaji Shah
    Desi News – January 5, 2019

    The collection of short stories about women dealing with difficult situations delves into the impact of social structures that discriminates against women.

    Set mainly in India – in a village and in modern-day Mumbai – but Canada, too, they lay bare the isolation, the pain, and the strength beneath the soft, pliant exterior.

    “The Last Letter”, written in the form of letters a lonely young woman writes home to her brother and close friend is heartbreaking in the build-up of details of her longing for love and respect.

    Ba describes a feisty, sprightly grandmother who passes on valuable life lessons to her grandson in Toronto.

    Drawing on the theme of reincarnation, The Scent of Mogra captures the sense of dislocation immigrants deal with. Yes, it drains you both physically and emotionally to live in different places, and then pack up and leave again, just when the unfamiliar has become familiar…

    Maya dresses in festive Indian clothes and takes gajar halwa for her niece’s graduation party. The niece and sister-in-law are dismissive of the dessert and her brother is embarrassed by her dress. Everyone stopped talking when they entered, some looking at her as if she had come from another planet.

    This particular passage had this reviewer pause and think. Now many people have or at least know of near ones who are less than loving, but a room of strangers looking askance at a newcomer in an Indian outfit?

    Be that as it may, these real and moving stories are redolent with the sights, sounds, and yes, scent of places many of us called home.

    The women in these stories will haunt you after you put down the book.

  3. Renée Knapp

    The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories by Aparna Kaji Shah
    reviewed by Mala Pandurang
    Muse India Issue 84 (Mar-Apr 2019)

    Stories with focus on gender based issues faced by Indian women

    The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories is a debut collection of short fiction by Toronto-based Aparna Kaji Shah. The blurb informs us that Kaji Shah was born in Mombasa, lived in Mumbai and then relocated to Canada. We might therefore assume that the stories in this collection deal with the themes of dislocation, nostalgia and cross-cultural conflicts usually associated with writing of the diaspora. The five short stories in The Scent of Mogra, however, focus on gender based issues faced by Indian women across space and time. A recurring denominator is the perception of marriage as a shackle that inhibits and oppresses. Shah’s focus is on the mechanisms of a patriarchal society and its multiple levels of suppression. Her female protagonists are articulate about their dilemma, yet they are unable to exert full agency to empower themselves.

    In the opening story, Maya is a well-qualified fifty year old woman who seeks a meaningful relationship with a younger man. She has remained unmarried, having had to care for her mother for her entire life. After her mother’s death, she experiences ‘a deep bottomless vacuum’. The story sensitises us to the emotional and physical needs of women in their mid-life. We applaud Maya’s decision to join the Canadian doctor Mark on a trip to Rajasthan as a bold first step towards a relationship that goes beyond conventional commitment.

    “The Last Letter” is the longest story in the collection, and perhaps the most moving. The story is structured as a series of letters from Surekha, who now lives in Mumbai, to her brother, parents and best friends Kamala and Minu back home at Nagda. Her initial letters capture her excitement of being a new bride in the dream city of Mumbai, but she moves on to describe the intense loneliness of a friendless woman who is caught in a loveless arranged marriage. Living in a cramped apartment, her view of the outside world is limited to what she can see from her tiny kitchen window. She is aware of the possibilities of art and culture in the city but cannot experience any of the exciting events because of the domestic demands of her husband. Surekha suspects her alcoholic, abusive husband is having an affair and yet she cannot disclose the truth of her situation to her parents. She considers herself to be a failure the story ends on a tragic note, despite Surekha putting up a brave front and making every attempt to be a good wife to an abusive husband.

    “Ba” is the only story in the collection which is narrated by a male protagonist, and set in Canada. University student Suneel describes his bonding with his seventy-five year old grandmother. He remembers her outgoing nature and enthusiasm to reach out to others, until his grandfather’s death. Thereafter Ba self-imposes restrictions of widowhood – ‘white sari, no bindi and a single gold bangle.’ She is diagnosed with lung cancer and on her death, and Suneel pays tribute to the inner strength he has derived from his grandmother’s moral fibre.

    Also included in the collection are stories that draw from the mother-daughter bonding. In “Vidya” a young mother is on her death-bed. In her final moments, she re-lives the trauma of being molested by her father-in-law. Her greatest fear is that her three daughters may suffer the same fate. In her comatose state, she is unable to convey her anguish to her family members. The title story “Scent of Mogra” introduces the theme of incarnation while once again focuses on the theme of gender oppression over generations. Sushmita, who is now dead, speaks of the story of her daughter Tina and connects Tina’s life narrative to the tale of Princess Megha, a previous incarnation. In “No other way,” Mira is a young bride married at the age of fifteen to Raj who is an alcoholic and abusive. She plans an escape with ‘the Dom,’ a group of people akin to nomads.

    Given the fact that Shah is based in Canada, she understandably directs her writing towards a non-Indian readership. The danger in doing so is the tendency to replicate stereotypes such as descriptions of India as a land associated with beliefs of reincarnation, Maharajas and a feudal setup. The cultural milieu of stories such as ‘Scent of Mogra’ and ‘No other way’ veers towards generalisations rather than specific signposts of time and geo-cultural location. Aparna Kaji Shah is a first time writer, and this is reflected in the simplicity of style and straightforward plots. The reader remains engrossed, though, due to the engaging storylines and the author’s ability to create empathy for her women characters.

  4. Renée Knapp

    The Scent of Mogra and Other Stories by Aparna Kaji Shah
    The Minerva Reader – July 20, 2019

    What a beautiful read, one that appeals to all senses. You truly get the sense of being inside each protagonist and vividly experiencing their lives. This collection has one of the saddest, most beautiful stories I’ve read in a very long time – I won’t say which one because I urge you to read the collection! Each story gripped and I couldn’t put the book down while in the middle of a story. Once I finished one, I took a break to savour what I had just read, to mull over the character’s situation and the stories resolution. They’re the kind of stories one needs to ponder, almost have an internal dialogue with the character to ask them for more, to continue being a part of their lives. I love how each voice had such a strong sense of individuality.

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