A Book Review by Nirmala Garimella
Once in a while you come across a book that stirs you from within , gives you a sense of the indomitable human spirit and leaves you with a feeling of catharsis and exhilaration. Geeta Dharmarajan edition of the Separate Journeys, a collection of short stories form India brought this feeling in me. Written by a varied set of outstanding women writers from India, its underlying theme of the faceless, mute and unsung heroism of ordinary women is so infectious that it succeeds as a platform in a journey undertaken that surely has a destination.
Almost every short story in this selection has been translated from its native language except for Anita Desai ‘Private Tuition with Mr. Bose’ that is originally written in English. Each one deals with a metaphorical journey that is significant to the protagonist and along the way transformation and resolution follows leading to the journey’s end. For instance in the first story ‘Bayen’ by Mahasweta Devi, Chandi, the mother of Bhagirath is thrown out of her village as she is declared a witch. As a Gangaputra.(keeper of the cremation grounds) she is cursed when her niece dies of an epidemic and Chandi is accused of casting a spell on her. Male and female characters speak their voices as her son in her accidental death courageously comes forward and owns her as his mother.
‘A day with Charulata’ byAnupama Niranjana is a journey in exploration of the author’s quest to dig into the life and times of Charulata , a bold and ambitious writer who despite her husband’s resistance to her writing emerges as a voice of her times.
‘The Decision’ by T Janaki Ram is the story of a lonely man whose life takes a dramatic turn when he is confronted on a single night with a mother and her pregnant daughter and their plea for shelter. The consequences are long term but how does one know that a journey can be so unpredictable ?
Temporary distraction that lure our mind away from the daily routine of our lives is vividly portrayed in Anita Desai’s ‘Private Tuition with Mr. Bose’ but as Desai succinctly puts it “ the grammar rearranges itself according to rule” in the end.
My favorite story was ‘Izzat’ by Ashapurna Devi, a poignant and thought provoking tale of a servant maid and her daughter’s escape from a ruthless Basti and their struggle for survival, the dilemma of a middle class housewife in succumbing to their plea only to be thwarted by her self respecting ,fence sitting husband.
Urmila Pawar’s ‘Justice’the story of a rape victim,Mrinal Pande’s’ A kind of a love story’, ‘The Hijra’ by Kamala Das are all reflective pieces that seem convincing, and too much like reality where the writers seem to rise up instead of buckling down to tackle a thorny issue. Two Urdu translations ‘The sermons of Haji Gul Baba Bektashi ‘by Qurratulain Hyder and’ I’ by Jeelani Bano also form part of the collection. The cryptic title of the latter story deals with the story of a boy Amir and the search for his own identity. Other writers include Vishwapria Iyengar,Rupavati, Rajee Seth and Varsha Das
Fourteen short stories in all, creating authentic emotional undertones and warming up the soul. I highly recommend it for its range and vitality and the bold handling of issues that to put it simply 'matter'
Geeta Dharmarajan is a writer for children and adults. Besides volumes in the Katha Prize stories series, she edits Tamasha ! a magazine for first generation school goers. She started Katha, an organization devoted to literary commentary in 1988 and is its Executive Director.
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