Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Another Man's Wife - Manjulal Bajaj

Another Man's Wife
ISBN: 9789350094921 
First Published: 2012
A collection of nine stories based mainly around rural India, with women as central characters

Fiction, Drama

No profanity.

Favorite Quote:
When you are in the presence of a good story, it is the only possible story - no other stories exist in that moment. ("Marrying Nusrat")

In 2012, I had reviewed A Calendar Too Crowded, and I was so disappointed by the depiction of women as either defensive or sorry figures. It was, therefore, with mixed feelings, that I took up Another Man's Wife.

Bajaj's women are not defensive. They are defiant and strong, with shades of grey. They aren't always right or moral, and that's perfectly alright. I loved every minute and every story of it. The simplicity of the stories, set amongst the most varied of backgrounds and Indian history, made for a riveting read.

Take for example, the first story, "Ripe Mangoes", where the protaganist is sleeping with her daughter's tuition teacher. As the story progresses, we end up loving her, EVEN when she slaps her daughter and says "Stop Snivelling, you little bitch."

Or the story of Ulsha Minj in "the Birthmark", a slave turned wife, who decided not to abort her girl child. Tackling one of the biggest problems for Indian women, this story could have easily been preachy or condemning. It was neither, and much more importantly, the ending was quite unexpected.

Or the story of "Me and Sammy Fernandez", a story of a husband-murderer set amidst a beautiful jazz background in Goa. Again, it's not the story itself that is riveting. It is the way each element is played out - the father who opposes the love marriage initially and becomes the crusader of rights for inter-caste marriages; the man who changes after marriage, and the woman who keep giving herself excuses to stay in it. 

Or the story of "Marrying Nusrat" with it's thoughtful little touchers - be it a teenager getting a nickname when he mishears "PRA" as "Pyaare", the struggle of the shift from a village to a city ("To be a poor man in a big city is a terrible thing - the only bodily fluid you can discharge with dignity is sweat") or the background of old hindi songs playing on a transistor in a tea stall.

Or the story of "Under a moonlit sky", which shows the plight of houseboat owners in Srinagar during the terror attacks, something I have frankly not given much thought to (and if I had read this first, I would have been more generous with the "Shikara" owner in Dal lake). While the houseboats resort to desperate means to survive, the once honeymooners of the houseboat are desperate for completely different reasons.  

This book is not a sob story. It's the story of women who are fighters, women who have not given up, and are happy with taking their destiny in their own hands. This book is not just about strong women. It's the story of middle class and rural India, who have their own battles to fight. 
Its fairly obvious by now, that the book is strongly recommended for a read. At least one of the nine stories is going to resonate with you. 


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