Searing Commentary on Society: On Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s ‘White Dancing Elephants’

Bhuvaneswar’s stories explore the power dynamics of rape, assault, queer relationships, sexism, racism, and societal structures.


Chaya Bhuvaneswar
Short Stories | 208 Pages | 5.5” x 8.5” | Reviewed: PDF ARC
978–1–945814–61–7 | First Edition | $16.95
Dzanc Books | Ann Arbor, Michigan | BUY HERE

Image: Dzanc Books.

Chaya Bhuvaneswar takes the reader through a web of the intricacies of life in this marvelously written collection of 16 vehement stories. Each story slowly unfurls, beginning with one small detail and then pushing the reader into a roller coaster of emotions, discovering and uncovering different aspects of life in modern times. With a dark cloud looming in the background, the characters in White Dancing Elephants come from diverse social and cultural backgrounds. Their interactions with each other and the systems of oppressive natures and sharp realities — with a mix of the complications of love and jealousy, along with the “hunger for a child,” which is a reoccurring theme throughout the stories — makes the collection a searing commentary on the truth of our society.

The tales range from a woman grieving a loss to a researcher having an affair with her best friend’s husband to a woman jealous of her spouse’s AI. The collection explores the power dynamics of rape and assault, queer relationships, sexism, racism, fallacies in judgment, and societal structures.

The author takes the reader for a walk through London with an almost-mother mourning the loss of her child in the titular tale. As you move along with her on the streets of this city, an unsettling feeling sits in your stomach, and you begin feeling the pain of the protagonist.

“Just two clear stains, understated, as quiet and undemanding as your whole life had been; only enough blood for me to know.”

The author beautifully manages to drop the weight of the truth on the reader suddenly, when she writes about just two clear stains, links them to the short-lived existence of the child in the womb, and then brings the crushing reality of the fact that this is enough to know that the child now ceases to exist. White Dancing Elephants is a book that makes the experiences of the characters feel like your own. It is not white and black; instead it brings out the gray areas that exist in all spheres. The gray areas of decisions made and actions taken and skewed moral compasses. It brings out the multifaceted nature of human beings and highlights the layers that go into making a person.

One of the strongest stories in the collection is “Talinda,” a story about an extramarital affair, envy, and illness, all coming together to create turmoil enough to keep the reader up at night.

“Water bar. ‘Mizu shobai is the Japanese name for it,’ Talinda said. Narika remembered the contemptuous curl of her lovely lips. ‘It’s from an expression about good luck and bad. A matter of chance, as shifting as water.’”

Bhuvaneswar draws beautiful parallels throughout the book, correlating simple things to the complexity of people and situations. White Dancing Elephants makes you feel lost and found at the same time, makes you lose a part of yourself, yet makes you choose a lense of clarity and gain so much more perspective through it.

SURMAYI KHATANA has a short-story collection, Cadence, and a blog, and is a former Star Student Reporter for the Times of India. She is presently President of her school Editorial Board. Her work has been published in Pilcrow and Dagger Magazine, and she has been awarded Best Poet in the Chandigarh Literature Festival.