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Challenging Everyday Realities

Akshaya Kumar

By Geetanjali Shree
Rajkamal Prakashan, New Delhi, 2006, pp. 136, Rs. 150.00

VOLUME XXX NUMBER 12 December 2006

As the Hindi short story spills beyond its patriarchal enclosures, rebellious fervour gives way to a self-reflexive and intellectually calibrated mode of storytelling. There are no easy passionate outbursts or relentless bouts of ideological sloganeering. The young breed of woman Hindi writers, particularly of the 90s, sustain the credo of protest set into motion by an earlier generation of writers, through a critical resurrection of the issues that were once thought to have been sufficiently clinched in favour of the woman. Old denouements inspire new dialogic take-offs.   Much before her well-acclaimed novel Mai, Geetanjali Shree had launched her creative enterprise with a collection of stories entitled Anugoonj (1991) that echoed the predicaments of ‘the new woman’ imagined by earlier writers. The echo is not just a romantic reverberation of the original salvo; it is the counter-sound too. Shree’s acoustics register those little noises, dissonances and discords that puncture, if not totally disrupt, any given mode of survival—including that of protest.   The woman-centric tales configure the ironies of the so-called ‘free’ space that ‘the new woman’ had rather violently reclaimed from the clutches of patriarchy long ago. The stories in this sense are stories of post-protest as the situations are far too complex and double-edged to be approached in terms of mere rhetoric. In the very first story of the collection, ‘Private Life’, the unmarried educated woman breaks free from the family fold to live in rented accommodation independently. Instead of negotiating the space for private life, the woman protagonist chooses to lead a bohemian life—marked by “cigarette . . . beer . . . white man” (p. 12), inviting strong reactions from patriarchal relatives and neighbours. The story does not answer questions; rather it raises some—should a private life border on the licentious? Also, an equally pertinent counter-question—would patriarchy ever concede intelligent adulthood to woman?   Each story records a mini-tale of struggle beyond the allegorical binaries of defeat or victory. Very eloquently, in her story ‘Bel-patra’ (‘Leaf of the Wood-Apple Tree’), a female character Fatima sets the tone of Shree’s creative dynamics thus: “This I have understood that small battles are real. Big battles are easy. We fight them with pride and die for them with a sense of pride. But these small battles . . . cling on to us like termites – as disgusting as insects . . . they just eat us from within. These battles are so small that it becomes difficult to see their ...

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