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Literary Review

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Evoking deep emotions


A compelling book but one that could make you a prisoner of your conscience.

  Apradhini: Women Without Men; Shivani, translated by Ira Pande, HarperCollins, Rs. 250.

Regional language literature has always been a vast reservoir of wealth waiting to be explored and, no matter how much of it is translated into English, only the tip of the iceberg emerges. Hindi writing, in particular, holds an embarrassment of riches that is just begging to be tapped.

Indelible mark

Of the many famous writers who have left an indelible mark on the minds of readers, the late Shivani will always be remembered as one of the most vocal contemporary pen-pushers. A fearless crusader for social justice, her fiery (and often unabashedly sentimental) women-centric pieces graced the pages of the popular magazine Dharmayug in 1960s and the 1970s

Translator and daughter Ira Pande returns with Shivani's Apradhini: Women without Men. As the title suggests clearly, the book revolves entirely around women and twists in circumstances that often make ordinary women rebel against the parameters of acceptability set down by society. And step shockingly out of line. Told lucidly and laced around her true life journalistic investigations, the stories in Apradhini chill the bone with their stark simplicity and brutal honesty. There is no attempt to sensationalise the author's encounters with prison inmates, no indulging in maudlin emotions either, merely a threadbare account of the lives led by women in the shadows of crime. Thus, we have the pretty Chanuli from Kumaon, a victim of domestic abuse; Janaki, who conspired with her lover to kill her own husband; the gangster's moll whose insatiable greed proves to be her undoing; and the earth-eating Muggi who lured 14 men into matrimony and fell in love with the 15th! Probably the most arresting heroines (or anti-heroines, if you will) are the mendicants whose crimes were never discovered but who remained captive to their personal guilt for life.

The second part of this three-sectioned book moves away from the prison setting, choosing instead to explore matters like unexpected meetings with long lost friends, feelings of déjà vu and inexplicable incidents revolving around the phenomena of rebirth and afterlife. Also featured here are stories about tricksters in the guise of innocent women, the ambiguous life of a madwoman and the tragic results of excessive irreverence.  An entire story is dedicated to the hardships faced by the author's mother and the magnanimity of spirit that survived all odds.

Part three comes as a breath of fresh air and with a touch of much-needed humour. The fates of temptress Shibi and the beautiful courtesan-in-the-making Rajula make for a fascinating read while the feisty Tope with a succession of boyfriends/husbands is delightful. The protagonists are picked from all quarters of the country creating a heady cocktail of regional flavours that would have been very charming, if only the stories were happier.

The author has a sharp ear for unspoken words and a keen eye that reads between the lines. Without saying anything concrete, she conjures up the horrors of Indian prisons and the plight of rural women who continue to be at the receiving end of immense social injustice. Domestic violence is depicted, terrifyingly, as a casual and regular occurrence; it is the outer limit of endurance that is the deciding factor of fates. Author interviews and a body of information etch the persona of the late Shivani very satisfyingly.

Bleak journey

This book is to be read at the reader's own peril. A bleak and joyless journey, one capable of evoking deep emotions…. Of these, guilt is likely to ride highest; that such a parallel world exists so close to the familiar one we recognise and yet one is helpless to do much about it. A compelling book but one that could make one a prisoner of one's own conscience. 

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Literary Review

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