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Nuanced Narratives


Ratna Raman

ALONE TOGETHER: SELECTED STORIES OF MANNU BHANDARI, RAJEE SETH AND ARCHANA VARMA
Translated by Ruth Vanita
Women Unlimited, Delhi, 2013, pp. 248, Rs. 350.00

VOLUME XXXIX NUMBER 5 May 2015

I have always admired Ruth Vanita’s work on account of its articulate lucidity. Re­viewing her translation of short stories by Mannu Bhandari, Rajee Seth and Archana Varma from Hindi to English promised to be an exciting possibility. However, I found Vanita’s introduction unbearably heavy, making a lot of claims for what are extremely slight narratives. Despite raising many issues in her introduction, Vanita continues to put the cart before the horse. While I do not dispute her argument that in popular patriarchal perception women’s honour is made to reside entirely in their ‘genitalia’, the claims made about women’s issues being raised through women’s fiction in India are not entirely sub­stantiated by the translated short stories that form part of this particular anthology. The stories are middling, oftentimes rather quaint, and although I reread them, distrusting my initial response, they still did not blow off the top of my head, which as nineteenth century woman poet Emily Dickinson points out is the impact invari­ably produced by great writing. ‘Yehi Sach Hai’ by Mannu Bhandari grabbed eyeballs as the delightful Bollywood film Rajnigandha, starring Amol Palekar and Vidya Sinha. It captured the evanescence and fleeting emotions of romanticized love and both Palekar and Sinha were at their inspired best in this light-hearted love story that ended well. This is possibly the first time that I have preferred a movie over a written translated source. The narratives that have been strung to­gether give us some extremely ordinary people, which is not a problem by itself, The situations in which these ordinary people find themselves are again not really memorable. Many of the situations are maudlin, as in the story of a man stealing from his employer to pay for medicines for his sick mother. Af­ter his mother’s death he wishes to cease but now his wife asks him to continue stealing in order to provide a handsome dowry for their daughter. This strikes the man as an unreasonable demand from his wife. Mean­while the daughter’s in laws are loving and undemanding and do not want any dowry in cash or kind. Women can be exploitative and succumb to expediencies as mothers and wives, but these are not new discoveries and one is not particularly inspired or motivated by any of the characters in this particular story. The contradictory responses of ...


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