Oct 7 2020

Short Story Review: “The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling” (2018) by Chaya Bhuvaneswar

porticos in Bologna, Italia

Upon first reading of Chaya Bhuvaneswar’s short story “The Goddess of Beauty Goes Bowling” (Chattahoochee Review, Spring 2018): the mythological and religious references (e.g. Rama, Buddha, Vishnu), all with origins from subcontinental Asia scattered (or carefully placed) throughout Bhuvaneswar’s story seemed forced—indeed intrusive to this reader.

Upon second reading: I could tell the mythological references weren’t simply decoration, nor did Bhuvaneswar crowbar them in to function as deus ex machina.

Upon third reading: I began to see how the mythological references explain the place Gopi (the main character in Bhuvaneswar’s story) has lost—or rather a place he probably never really had––in his conflict with coming from India to the United States. One gets a sense that if Gopi read this story, he would not see any significance in the usage and placement of the mythological tropes and nods in it.

Bhuvaneswar’s Gopi, moreover, is a terribly middling-man not unlike Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilyich. Both Gopi and Ilych are interested only in their own needs rather than those around them:

Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible…. At school he had done things which had formerly seemed to him very horrid and made him feel disgusted with himself when he did them; but when later on he saw that such actions were done by people of good position and that they did not regard them as wrong, he was able not exactly to regard them as right, but to forget about them entirely or not be at all troubled at remembering them…. (The Death of Ivan Ilych [c. 1886] II)

Ivan Ilych, as one in whose sphere the matter did not lie, would have nothing to do with him: but if the man had some business with him in his official capacity, something that could be expressed on officially stamped paper, he would do everything, positively everything he could within the limits of such relations, and in doing so would maintain the semblance of friendly human relations, that is, would observe the courtesies of life.(ibid III)

Meanwhile for Gopi:

The cane could have belonged to a wandering Buddhist ascetic with nothing but outstretched palms and a cheerful disposition to see him through old age. In contrast, Gopi was seething, tired, resentful…

As he ate, he flipped through the newspaper she had brought, fingering each page as he read, since each proved that Lakshmi [his wife] had been thinking of him, and not of Shree [their mentally disabled daughter], when she bought the paper.

Both Ilych and Gopi are what the Christian West might refer to as “lukewarm”:

And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God;

I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot.

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:16, Authorised Version)

While at the end of his life, Ivan Ilyich has a realization and a route to possible redemption for his mostly wasted life, at the end of Gopi’s story, however, Bhuvaneswar shows him remaining trapped in a cycle of anger and fear.