Palo Alto Weekly

Cover Story - March 2, 2012

Apala G. Egan, 'Bastille Day'

The story is based on my memories and experiences in India, where I spent my childhood and youth. Bengal, where I am from, was one of the first regions to fall sway to European powers, both French and English; if the English gained ascendancy in the subcontinent, the French retained their strongholds. The story is set during the twilight of that era.

The story is based on my own childhood recollection of a young woman who wore no make-up or jewelry and seemed to shroud herself in white saris edged with the thinnest of borders; stark white is the color of mourning in India. The image stays in my mind, though as a youngster I scarcely gave it a thought. With the passage of years, thoughts crowd into my brain; could she have been a widow? I grew up in an extended family in a house with two kitchens; meat was cooked as far away as possible from the vegetarian kitchen. My grandmother and my elderly aunt who lived with us observed the dietary strictures of widowhood.

I have been working on translating some of the writings by an award-winning woman writer of Bengal, Jyotirmoyee Devi. She was among the earliest women writers of that region and much of her work focuses on the experiences of women, be they wives, mothers or concubines. In the process of translating, I believe I got bitten by the writing bug. I have taken a number of writing courses over the last few years as time permitted. I took the Creative Writing sequence at Foothill College, and then went on to take specific on-line courses through Berkeley and UCLA and selected in-class courses at Stanford. I also attended the Squaw Valley Writer's Conference three years ago. My day job is that of a substitute teacher, but the rest of the time is for exploring the world of writing and literature.

This is the first contest that I have ever entered, and I am both honored and delighted that my piece was selected. In addition to my translations, I am also working on short stories and a novel.

Judge's comment

"Bastille Day" is an elegant, finely wrought story of a young Indian widow battling her sensual impulses and the constraints of her culture to forge a new life consisting of small satisfactions and larger guilts.

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