Review: Ghanishtha Verma
Home.Madhulika Liddle, Woman to Woman
I was home.
Or was I ?
‘Woman to Woman’ is a collection of twelve short stories by Madulika Liddle which moves the deepest chords of our heart and shakes our unconscious awareness. The book unabashedly explores the unheard and unspoken realities about life and woman. The text does not aim to give a sermon nor does it try to mold the facts; rather, it simply presents the unabridged version of hidden truth of society. The text is an artistic amalgamation of tales about women of different age groups, culture and society in which some bow to the authority and oppression, whereas few decide to fight back. The author does not comment on their way of giving back to their oppressors, in fact Liddle sets the readers free to decide for themselves!
In the story titled ‘Paro’, the author portrays the picture of women who are still considered as commodities, having no emotions, dreams or desires; who are bought and sold in the barter system of our society. They are not only degraded to non-living commodities but are also ill-treated as if they were buffaloes in fields of some inhuman zamindaar. Recently Indian television has also tried to raise voice against this inhuman practice. Colours (an Indian television channel) has started telecasting a daily-soap titled ‘Molkki’ about “a stolen woman, a bought bride,” what Sana is in Liddle’s ‘Paro’.
In another story titled ‘Ambika, Mother Goddess’, Ambika is raped one night by a man working in a garage. After the brutal assault, instead of punishing the ‘animal man’ who raped her, society conveniently blames the girl. The situation worsens when Ambika’s father also joins in accusing her by saying, “she must have been making eyes at him”. He ends up commiting suicide, who himself sent her to buy paan at night after being drunk. He resonates before dying that his cloak of honour has been stained by her daughter. In the hospital while giving birth to the personification of her insult and pain, she thinks they can be friends “after all thirteen years isn’t much of a gap.”
The collection also explores the isolation and emptiness which women (and mothers) feel even though surrounded by many faces. In the fourth tale, ‘Woman to Woman’, Liddle erases the gulf between the nun and the prostitute as both of them have witnessed and are going through the same isolation. The only difference is that the society has declared one as impure and immoral, while the other is chaste in their eyes. ‘The Letter’ and ‘Maplewood’ give us the pictures of mothers who are waiting for their children to come and are feeling like pennies waiting for change.
This collection brilliantly captures the pain and hardships through which women go through. While reading this text, one dives deep into an ocean of emotions and tries to fight against the waves of helplessness women face in the patriarchal society. Going through the story ‘Two Doors‘, one tries to hold tears and anger, feeling the pain Kamini goes through: four years, five IVF and she still prays for a child to come into existence. When a phone call comes and she misunderstands that maybe her husband is dead, the first thought that comes to her is “if he’s dead, that will be the end. No obligations. No pressing need to have a baby. No – no nothing…”
If a person or group of people are being wronged, and one decides to take revenge, it is understood, though not justified. In another story titled ‘Mala’, the protagonist Mala takes revenge from the man who deceives her by adding poison in his tea and later kills herself. In the ‘Poppies in Snow’ Liddle tries to delve deep in the psyche of Kashmiris. The concept of freedom and ways to achieve it differ from person to person having only one thing in common i.e. peace among people and safety of their loved ones. They neither want India nor do they dream to be part of Pakistan, as both the nations have misused and ruined them for their own benefits. In the land of snow, which is considered as heaven on earth, the woman’s body is treated as a piece of land which everyone tries to owe. In this battle of capturing bodies, a wife takes revenge by colouring the snow red with blood of her husband’s murderer.
Keeping it short, one can say, that this collection of stories by Liddle captures all the facets of life. The narratives cleverly and artistically present the unspoken dark secrets of society not in whispering tone but in loud voices hoping to be heard, which may act as a small stepping stone towards change for the good of womankind and mankind.
About the author :
Madhulika Liddle is an Indian writer who writes in English. She is best known for her books featuring the 17th century Mughal detective Muzaffar Jang, although she is also a prolific writer of short fiction, travel writing, and writing related to classic cinema.