The Empty Chest by Indira Goswami

Published: 2021-09-10 16:05:08
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Category: Book Reports

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Indira Goswami's short story "The Empty Chest" is set in Assam, "on the fringes of the cremation ground under the shrine of Kamakhya." The protagonist is Toradoi, a woman who lives with her children in a shack and ekes out an existence for her small family now that her husband has been taken to jail. She has been married for ten years, and her life was not always like this. When she combed her hair on her wedding day, she could not feel the bones of her head and shoulders as she can now, indicating that things are not the worst they have ever been for Toradoi and her little family.

This little family is not the only one subsisting on the leftovers and prospects of the cremation ground. The houses are all rather leaky with holes and gaps, and the people all kind of spy on one another. We slowly come to understand that there is something unusual in Toradoi's house which is causing quite a stir of gossip and spying on her household. At first she just refers to it as a "black box," but then we learn is it actually a wooden chest. The narrator explains the chest's presence this way:

Its very existence was a source of strength to Toradoi.

As the descriptions continue, we learn that this box is ornately carved and is quite large. Then we get this line, and we understand exactly what the wooden chest is:

she wriggled into the huge chest and lay there, leaving its cavernous mouth open.

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