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Womanist Fables

Anjana Neira Dev

By Rita Joshi
Heritage Publishers, New Delhi, 2015, pp. 188, Rs. 295.00


Two young women in creative collaboration, looking at a train winding its way through the hills and immortalizing this moment on canvas—all the symbols on this cover—the blue sky, the hills in the distance, the misty horizon, the train, the sparse vegetation, the canvas and brush and the two female figures—signal the literary intention of the writer. She has set out, in the six short stories in this collection, to decode the lives of women as they negotiate their lives and search for meaning and identity. The book has a synergy that comes from the stories being interconnected by the common underlying theme of a quest for the truth. In each instance, the story opens with a crisis and the narrator sets out to investigate the complex reasons that have set a chain of events in motion and resulted in this predicament. The plot, characterization and setting are all dexterously handled and the author’s decades of engagement with literature imbues the stories with a rich array of literary and historical references that give them a unique flavour and complexity. The first of the stories, ‘The Simla Paintings’, travels back in time to investigate the mysterious death of an artist Sarah Smith and uncover the truth behind three missing paintings intriguingly called Bluebeard in Simla I, II, III. The narrator, who is also a character in the story and an art historian, travels to Simla and what she discovers changes everything. The fine detailing in the story makes it read like a ‘passage in painting’ in which apparently disconnected themes come together to create a new vision. The reader will be enthralled by the atmosphere evoked by the narrator as she seamlessly blends this journey into ‘the heart of Whiteness’—colonial Simla—with the events unfolding in the theatre of the nationalist movement for independence from the colonizer. Sarah’s diary evokes not only the anguish of a young artistic woman trapped in marriage to an unsympathetic patriarch but also simultaneously hints at the larger issue of the control and oppression of India by the white man. An interesting subsidiary theme is that of the trauma of the Anglo Indians, disowned by both Indians and the British and forced to live in a noman’s world of disquietude. Before the reader thinks that this is another feminist story with a predictable agenda, the author throws in a ...

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