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Bijnis Woman by Tanuja Chandra is a treasury of local tales told by the “mausis, buas, and chachas” of Uttar Pradesh, and reveal human beings in all their flawed glory.
“…And then she brought her head down upon the milestone with the force of a meteor.The impact made a loud, dismal sound. It cracked her head open, as if it were watermelon hurled into the ground. It split into two, right down the middle of the brow.The two half -spheres fell open to the sides, held together by the bottom half of the face, It was red inside, just like a watermelon. There were dark seeds in it exactly like watermelon.”
_____ Atta Chakki
Folktales are a part of Indian culture and ethos in a significant way. And, these tales come with the enormous warmth and passion of the people who experienced it close to them, and also choose to talk about it to keep them alive over the decades. Bijnis Woman by Tanuja Chandra is one such collection that will take you on a heartwarming ride to those years of unadulterated and unalloyed emotions. It will make you sit, read, absorb and feel the tales as if it is happening now, just next to you.
Needless to say, when a story comes through the sensibilities of an ace film director like Ms. Chandra, it is bound to have an effect that lingers many moons even after the pages are shut and closed. With fourteen stories, Bijnis Woman is an assimilation of anecdotes that has passed through generations, and as the author puts forth, are actually “stories of Uttar Pradesh told by Mausis, Buas and Chachis.”
Bijnis Woman houses fourteen short stories coming from varied backgrounds.
The first story ‘Sibling Love’ is about two cousins cum friends who were inseparable even in death.
The second story ‘Atta Chakki’ is a bizarre tale of a beautiful girl who ends up with an unthinkable ailment.
The third story ‘The Final Insult’ is about a court peon and his final revenge, that leaves everyone astounded.
The fourth ‘The Don Life’ is a heart wrenching story about a local Don, whose wife died mysteriously within two years of her marriage because of an unfathomable reason.
The fifth ‘The Tea stall’ is a bold love story of a young widow Rani, and her zest for life.
The sixth story ‘The Guru’ is about a blind teacher who falls in love with a woman of vicious intentions.
The seventh ‘Fortune Teller’ is an interesting tale of a boy who turns a Fortune teller but cannot save himself from his own misfortunes.
The eighth story ‘The young Zamindar and Amrita’ is an unrequited love story of Amrita and a married young Zamindar.
The ninth story ‘The Soldier’ is about a runaway boy who joins army and then becomes a hero in the village.
The tenth story ‘Dudhiya’ is yet again an unrequited love saga of Cheetni, a beautiful girl with disfigured foot and a dudhiya (milk man).
In the eleventh story ‘The Accidental Meeting’ the author brings about a bizarre meeting of father and son at a brothel.
The twelfth story ‘Pilkhuwa Waale’ is a tale of a self obsessed and self glorifying Hari Prasad’s life and end.
Thirteenth one is ‘Doctors and Beloveds’, a tale of a family of doctors where the wives couldn’t have more than one child, and how this was proved wrong in the later years.
And finally the fourteenth ‘Bijnis Woman’ (Business Woman), an inspiring story of Langhi, a bartanwali and her unparalleled business acumen that paves way for a life of dignity for herself and her family.
A very easy, simple and lucid narration is what makes all the stories in Bijnis Woman a highly recommended read. Just like the innocence of the tales, the narrative too is like a transparent walkover devoid of any head breaks. However, what I occasionally missed was the histrionics of the buas and chachas that would have infused a different slice of life in these stories. With Ms. Chandra at the helm, I was expecting her to breathe a little more drama into the stories.
So, from the point of theatricals, the narrative was slightly drab in patches. Also, a little bit more of detailing of the place, the food, and costumes would have added punch to the stories. Since in India these facets are identifying factors of culture, detailing a bit more would have made the read more visually satisfying.
Since Bijnis Woman is non fiction, the characters are very ‘real’ and highly relatable. We all must have heard of such people and tales existing at some corner of the country. Whether it was the young Zamindar, or the Don, or the Langhi bartanwali, we have seen them all around us at various times.
The author adopts simplicity when it comes to the language, which blends effortlessly with the texture of the tales. Earthy and quiet with occasional dollops of original language, Hindi (eg. Jaan se jaunga sarkar), made the read absolutely brilliant. However, at a few junctures, I felt that some more of Hindi would have made the stories come alive, vibrantly. Bijnis Woman has tight edits throughout that lent a formidable cushion to these chronicles, making them delectable to the core. Quite impressive.
In all the fourteen tales, what I found essentially missing is deliberating on characters and moments. They were rushed. I would have loved it if the blind Manjari’s and Guru’s relationship in ‘The Guru’ was allowed to flow a little more. It would have been interesting to read how blind people lead a happy married life. Also, Rajjo’s pain in ‘The Tea Stall’ when her husband died within ten days of her marriage had several layers to dig deep into. And, how about a few more moments of father and son at the brothel in ‘The Accidental Meeting’. There was huge scope that was left untouched and parched. I felt, this bit could have been better.
Bijnis Woman is a beautiful read for various reasons. It is one of those collections that bring back the reminiscences of the bygone era that is fast getting washed off in the hullabaloo of the modern life. The beauty of these tales are the unambiguous relationships that are based on tangible human emotions, and just that. So, grab it, and transport yourself to the world of stories that are close to the heart and the soil, profoundly.
Published here earlier.
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Top image via Pixabay and book cover via Amazon