Niharika’s Bookshelf:”Body Maps:Stories by South Asian Women”

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Body Maps: Stories by South Asian Women, Zubaan Publications, Edited by Radha Chakravarty, 2007-12-01, Delhi

Confronting issues that are considered taboo in an exhaustively conscious and judgemental society, this collection of short stories explore women in the background of culture, tradition, maternity, sexuality, identity, desire, lust and love. It seeks to find answers to questions and in turn question the integrity and the relevance of the constricted answers. It is a bold attempt by the South Asian writers and the central emphasis in each of the stories has not been lost in translation, it seems.

Most of them also have abstract story lines, attempting to deal with the subject in contention with less explanation and more with vivid, gory descriptions. “The Sandal Trees” by Kamala Das would be an exception in this regard; it traces the long journey of two friends whose love for each other eventually tears them apart. It is a convincing look at lesbianism and inescapable compromise to fit within the expectations of a community. Quite contradictory to this is the story of a Bangladeshi woman whose ambition to fight for her country leads her to break all norms, and abscond to serve her motherland.  The plight of a woman is highlighted — oppression, subjugation, abuse. Instead of a sympathetic tone, however, the writer adopts a rather “matter of fact” approach to her story exuding a feel of justification ambition once realised cannot hold one behind the veil.

The marvels of science that have upgraded our lives cannot be undervalued. “The Flower Vase” and “Unfaithful Servants” have encompassed the aspect of scientific dependence in life. Though one accepts this notion, the other highlights the manipulation of science for human greed and revenge.

The much debated teenage pregnancies and abortion are discussed in Ambai’s “Once Again” and Indira Goswami’s “Off Spring” respectively. Refusing to carry the child of the man of a lower caste, the main protagonist in Ambai’s story is portrayed as a strong yet prejudiced woman who proves that tables can be turned and it is not always the women who can be doubly oppressed.

“The Photographs” is a refreshing change from the otherwise heavy collection, with its simple tale devoid of conflict and trauma. It holds a lot of sub text in its simplicity and is filled with the moments one recollects on  bright, sunny mornings.

All in all, this edition is the new age feminist’s paradise.

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