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The very title of Madhulika Liddle’s recent short story collection, Woman To Woman caught my attention. When I read the blurb, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.
This is what the blurb of Woman To Woman says: ‘A young girl finds herself looking on as her mother listens to the woes of the world, always offering a sympathetic ear and a shoulder to cry on — while harbouring a bitter secret few know of. A woman and her brother try to come to terms with the knowledge of their mother’s infidelity. In a flood in Assam, a family is ruined and their daughter finds herself sent off to an unseen bridegroom in faraway Delhi. In a colonial bungalow in the heart of rural India, a lonely old woman notices the stark difference between her privileged life and that of the poor around her. But who, really, is more privileged? In the span of a bus journey, a prostitute and a nun find they have more in common than they had imagined. And in the snowfields of Kashmir, a young widow takes her revenge on the man who killed her husband in the only way she knows…’
Yes, you might have guessed by now, the short stories portray the lives of women from various strata of the Indian society. As is evident from the blurb, each story deals with themes that are poignant and important to women in this country if not worldwide.
These are stories we hear around us, or stories where we might have been one of the characters, as well. These are stories of ordinary women; however, it is Madhulika’s sensitive treatment that makes these stand out as important enough to be heard, felt, and reflected upon. Perhaps, this is what I enjoyed most about the book, the skillful way in which the author creates the worlds where we interact with the characters with all our five senses.
In ‘Mala’, you experience your childhood school vacations filled with mouthwatering buttery paranthas, juicy mangoes, and a visit to the grandparents sprawling house in the suburbs. In ‘Collector of Junk’, you can almost smell the onion that Amma is chopping while listening to Kallu’s sad tales. In ‘Wronged’ you feel the pulsating and annoying Delhi traffic around you as you’re trapped inside your car listening to disturbing revelations about your parents.
Woman To Woman is filled with many such images that engage the senses and hence the stories seem to be playing out like a movie in front of you or sometimes, you even seem to be making the journey with the characters.
These stories might make you uncomfortable with their realities, some might break your heart, while some might simply fascinate you with the realization of how different we women are from each other. However, each story will remind you how we as women are still connected by our gender, and by the way in which society might look upon us or treat us due to the same. The best thing about these stories is that most of them give you some sense of hope and reconciliation.
The book is a short read but a gripping one. I simply couldn’t stop myself from finishing it in the midst of a very hectic month. In fact, I left another novel midway to just finish this one first as from the first story itself, the book captured my attention and wouldn’t let me go till I was done with it.
‘Woman to Woman’ is an important read, especially for Indian women (and men who believe in the concept of equality of both the genders). It not only opens your eyes to women belonging to the different segments of the Indian society, but it also gives you a glimpse of their lives and how everyone is fighting a battle to make sense of their lives, or whatever lives they’ve been doled out by their circumstances or by the patriarchal society.
Without giving away too much of the stories, all I can tell you is that Madhulika has this brilliant ability to not only make you see things from her characters’ viewpoint, but to also live those few moments in the story with the characters, and follow them in their journeys. Not a single story fails to stir something within you. Some of my favorites from the collection are: ‘Two Doors’, ‘Maplewood’, ‘Ambika, Mother Goddess’, ‘Captive Spirit’, ‘Wronged’, and of course, the final story, ‘Poppies in the Snow’, that stirred me to such a great extent that I even made my husband read it.
Woman To Woman is a book that is definitely worth a read and I’d surely look out for more such work from the writer in the future. Kudos to Madhulika for addressing some very important themes with such panache without being over the top dramatic. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in women’s fiction and short stories.
Published here earlier.
Image source: Kasturi Patra
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