The Cuckoo Sings Again is a collection of short stories written by Hema Ravi (Vanathi Pathippakam, Chennai, 2022, 96 pp. ISBN 978-81-952742-7-7).
In the last years I have been following Hema Ravi’s literary activity manifested in poetry, writing of travelogues, very insightful book reviews, poetry anthologies, and the organizing of international literary events. She is an independent researcher and resource person for language development courses. She is also an editor. Her works have been published both in India and abroad. Her omni heartfelt presence expressed in a simple but very friendly and sensitive way makes one feel that Hema Ravi has been our lifetime friend.
I am among the lucky ones to have had the opportunity to talk to her personally and meet her at international cultural events on Zoom or on WhatsApp. What a joy! I am among those who have been honored to have her as a permanent contributor to International Writers' Journal, the magazine that I have been running in the last couple of years. My dear friend Hema has been one of the most outstanding voices of our contributors, always present in the pages of this literary magazine with a diverse pallet of writings. Needless to say, that her contributions increased the value of this publication leading to its success.
Now, when I am writing these considerations, together with her husband, N. Ravi, Hema is in the United States enjoying a nice vacation with their children. We had a phone conversation and, once again, I was glad to see her. What a joy to feel those unseen binds gathering together two persons who live on different continents, at great geographic distances! And yet, this is irrelevant when we speak about friendship and a communion of thoughts as far as exchanging our opinions and sharing the same passion for literature and art, in general, are concerned.
Hema surprised me during our chat on the phone; she mentioned her latest book The Cuckoo Sings Again, which she mailed to me.
Sixteen short stories in total lead us to a world where she floats smoothly from one topic to another, yet keeping throughout the book the same tone, and being faithful and steady to some literary topics and the manner in which she approached them. As a main characteristic of her literary style, Hema Ravi will go skillfully from nice descriptions that remind us of the landscapes rendered in visual arts to stage directions (like in movie scripts). Finally, she arrives to her main heroes, portraying their feelings, and all this taking place in simple plots which, at the end of each short story, will come to offer the solution to their life problems. From this point of view Hema Ravi observed one of the three golden rules of Classicism: the unity of action. Her short stories do not fall into a stereotype dry cliché, just because her approach has to be considered from a constructive view point which is deeply anchored in our modern life adapted to an everyday turmoil. Her book can be watched like a big screen divided into smaller screens into which each short story is a distinctive independent mini movie, while she is the almighty and precise movie director. She transposes her own feelings of serenity and peace, living in a perfect harmony with the rest of her surrounding milieu (see “Beyond Stereotypes”, pp. 29-32) to the feelings of her characters.
One can rightfully wonder how could Hema Ravi concentrate so many and diversified aspects of life wrapped in such a multitude of devices in such short texts? A possible answer could be her strength of ‘pouring a strong essence in a small bottle.’ It is the case of “The Cuckoo Sings Again”, the short story which gives the title of her book. Why this title and why precisely the cuckoo? This bird lives all over the world from North Africa to Eurasia, from Japan to the Kamchatka Peninsula, from Ireland to Portugal, and in the two American continents. In India he can be found even at 17,000 ft altitude. According to the peoples’ mentalities, cuckoo is permanently a present hero in folkloric traditions and superstitions. His name is an onomatopoeia inspired by his own song. Listened for the first time during a year, he harbingers the coming of spring. In magic rituals he appears to be a sacred or an oracle bird calling upon fertility. This is one possible explanation of the title of her book: renewal, change to the better. But if you still did not succeed in grasping Hema Ravi’s literary technique leading to various interpretations which she makes use of skillfully and subtly yet, without making a direct allusion to cuckoo’s Indian and international legends, then this fourth short story will help you decipher ‘the enigma’ of her book. Just like the cuckoo’s song, the end of her each short story is a triumph of the good. In comparison to awls who are, among others, believed to predict death, cuckoo is a symbol of joy, happiness, and optimism who announces life and change for the better. In Hinduism, cuckoo birds fly the Jayakara’s chariot, a companion of Kamadev, the god of love. In other parts of India, cuckoo symbolizes families’ welfare, New Year greetings, hope, and wishes for good harvest.
Her characters are simple people who, for a moment, in any of her stories, live under spotlights. There is always something to determine their progress in life, a climax or a momentum that make them (men, women, children, teenagers) start up their evolution despite a quite humble previous existence or despite the experience of a painful dramatic event. The best description says the following: “she grew up to be a loner and rather introverted” “An Orator Is Born”, p. 23). Her heroes may spend their lives divided between joy and happiness, controversial relationships between parents and children, devastating dramas for the rest of their days. Or, why not, in other circumstances, they live the unique chance of their lives when a simple moment changes radically the course of their destiny making them be projected from a “17-year-old (not so confident, introvert, naïve) me who had no idea that just in a matter of another year, my life would change forever, as would my choices, and thereby my personality” (“Op. cit.”, p. 26). The author seems to analyze her characters from an outer point of view, detached, but in reality, she identifies herself with each one of them getting involved in full in their fate. The rule which Hema Ravi applies for her characters is one of a hard work and of a preliminary training carried on with a lot of courage and assiduity. That flash of success (which is very true to reality) leads undoubtedly to the right of living one’s life in independence and at maximum scores, leaving aside and rejecting the dull possibility of leading an existence “under someone’s shadow and glory” (“Idem.”, p. 27).
The sensitivity of Hema Ravi’s soul is also manifested in the perfect match between the use of prose (as a basic support of this book) and some of her profound, delicate, and illustrative poems spread here and there. They fit the various themes where the author opens up her heart in front of her readers. The writers’ feelings of peace of mind wrapped in a sort of introversion are often met in this short story collection, also because she is not an advocate of a soul invasion or of any other type of invasions: “And my shyness used to be my shield… My life is my message” (“Ibid.”, p. 25). And indeed, the message of her book is confidence which she shares and forwards in delicate tones or touches which, in the end, prove to be particularly convincing and pertinent. Read and interpreted from this point of view, The Cuckoo Sings Again can be considered a climax of her creative literary maturity, a reference book which expresses the archetypal belief of a life which is depicted in its countless examples. The inevitable conclusion is: “Hold on to your dreams, dream big, and achieve them all little by little.” (“Ibid.”, p. 27).
Many of Hema Ravi’s short stories turn around the death of an important member of the family. This tragic loss will always have a great influence on the future life and destiny of those who were left to keep living on this earth. And somewhere in the book the author seems to give up, to surrender in front of this implacable moment. The conclusion is simple: “What is due to us will come in time” (“Quintessential Woman”, p. 39).
The Cuckoo Sings Again is also an educational book abounding in international sayings: “If you educate a man, you educate an individual, but if you educate a woman, you educate a family (nation)” (“Op. cit.”, African proverb, p. 44); famous maxims: “There is only one way to happiness and that is to cease worrying about things which are beyond the power of our will” (“Survival Against Odds”, Epictetus, p. 45). Or: “Avarice and jealousy are Man’s deadliest enemies, deadlier than substance abuse or addiction to alcohol.” … “Cheating and dishonesty cannot go on endlessly.” … “Cheating on a good person is like throwing away a diamond and picking up a rock. And be saddled with that rock for life.” (“Obsession Stain”, p. 76). From this point of view the book of this renown Indian and international writer is the expression of some of her life principles, a fundamental conviction of humanity: happiness and success will never gather together unless they go through a perseverant effort supported by a steady belief in an ideal. That is another main idea of Hema Ravi’s book.
The undeniable literary and ideatic value of her short stories lies also in the fact that many of them won reputed national and international literary awards. The Cuckoo Sings Again is a literary jewel in miniature. It is like a translucid piece of amber through which one can see a mini universe, the whole concentration of a genome encoded in a hereditary and in a valid information. The very essential memory of humanity repeated again and again (see “Memories in a Slate”, pp. 77-82). What I have stated up till now alternates with impressively heartrending and tender writing of pages of life description (see “Atithi Devo Bhava” = ‘Guest is God’, pp. 53-54, or “Letter from Mother to Daughter”, pp. 55-59).
Hema Ravi has always been interested in embracing successfully a lot of different activities. She is a writer of a vast culture, of an extensive reading (see the legend of King Midas from the Greek Antiquity narrated in her “Fairy Tale Retold: The Golden Statue”, pp. 83-85). “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he was like to have” (“Op. cit.”, p. 83). She makes use of the Greek King’s example both in order to support the main idea of this short story and with an aim to inviting her readers to dig up, making new discoveries and meditating to possible new horizons.
Although the action of her short stories takes place only in India, one cannot but notice the universal character of her plots; such situations and life events can occur anywhere in the world. From this point of view The Cuckoo Sings Again is a bridge which unites the Indian reality with the Western community. It does not isolate India from the rest of the world. On the contrary, it inscribes it in universality.
Another thought is the tribute to teachers, which could not have been absent from her book. In “Lessons from Children”, the author who is a teacher too, directs her gratefulness to this social category of people whom she considers: “Teachers are like gods… They scold us only when we do something wrong. They tell us stories and teach us a lot of things. I like to become a teacher” (“Lessons from Children”, p. 66). She shows her respect and admiration to their hard work and permanent devotion to spread the light of education and knowledge among their students.
Our special kudos to N. Ravi who brought his valuable contribution to the illustration of International Writers’ Journal and also to inspired pictures for every story in this book, to the cover designer, Srivats Chandrasekkeran (Hema and N. Ravi’s son-in law). We know that book covers are an extremely important element in the definition of a book personality. This was the case of The Cuckoo Sings Again book cover creation. It took a lot of time because neither the publisher, Dr. Tr. Ramanathan, nor Hema Ravi could agree on a certain conceptual design. And thus, the book cover remained undone for a while. During a chat with Nivedita, her daughter, epiphany suddenly struck bringing Srivats, Nivedita’s husband, into the picture. He imagined and created the book cover in just two days’ time condensing the essence of the stories in a picture. All the team read this short story collection and with a lot of inspiration and art they assumed the hard task of combining the text with the visual arts, thus conferring a touch of class to this book.
The Cuckoo Sings Again does not depict an exotic India, on the contrary, in it, Hema Ravi proves to be a very insightful and minute observer of society.
See how many possibilities of interpretations and of combinations of themes Hema Ravi proposes in her small dimension-wise book, which is so condensed in its content. It is a real pleasure to read it.