How free is your spirit?

Apradhini: Women without menApradhini: Women without men

Shivani, translated by Ira Pande
Harper Perennial
2011, pp 193
Rs 250

Winner of the Padma Shri in the year 1983, Shivani has authored many novels including Chaudah Phere, Krishnakali, Smashan Champa, Rati Vilap and Vishkanya. Compiled in Apradhini are the exceptional stories from the lives of everyday women; lives altered by men sidelining them to the fringes of society.

Divided into three parts, the collection categorises stories into themes. Part one relates the experiences of the author from her visit to a prison in Lucknow. Chanuli, the devoted wife, Janaki, who aided her lover in killing her husband, the earth-eating Muggi and the intimidating Vaisahnavi are all intriguing characters in this part. This part also includes the life of ‘prisoners of a different order’ without iron shackles and limiting walls — Alakh Mai and Rajula. Part two goes on to narrate those implausible instances that come to pass in our lives; of meeting a person from your past, experiencing an unbelievable feat or the sorrow of a mother’s unlikely prayer. These are stories mostly of women you and I have come to know in our lives. Part three with ‘Shibi’, ‘Dhuan’ and ‘Tope’ are about women who have prioritised the place of men in their lives.

The logic and tone used in Apradhini are evidently that of an age prior to the one we live in. The book contains strong phrases questioning the capability of a woman in reacting violently. The author’s interventions often tend towards disbelief of this violent streak in women/mothers. Having said that, the author seems to be ahead of her times in her perception of the gumption her characters portray in dealing with the results of their actions.

These women’s lives are engaging without embellishment and Shivani’s style of writing is touching in its authenticity. What highlights the intensity is that the author keeps the language simple, letting the story speak for itself. The author’s love for music comes across effortlessly in her writing, with music being used as an index for the degree of gloom in her characters.

My favourite aspect of the book is the underlying sense of spirituality of the penance certain characters take upon themselves in the atonement of the crimes they have committed. The characters that stick with me are Chanuli, Alakh Mai and Rajula. Rajula, for instance, gave away all her money and became a beggar singing ‘Kariye Chhima’ in penitence for a heinous crime she once committed. The one haunting description that strikes a chord is that of a baby boy whose sleeping hands cup the blood of his father who is murdered while sleeping next to him.

In a manner that does not patronise or preach, Apradhini gives to its characters the space to make their own judgements — it is one of those books which have come closest to my vision of feminism — a theory where every woman chooses her course of action and no other has the right to question her. ‘…there is no jail on earth that can shackle a free spirit and no spirit so free that its feet cannot be bound in chains we cannot see’ — is the enrapturing message that I imbibed from Apradhini.

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