The dark gloomy corners of our country, rife with female foeticide, are illuminated in this insightful novel. ABDULLAH KHAN
The eyecatching blue cover of this intriguingly titled novel makes you take notice of it. The book reminds you of Kishwar Desai’s Witness the Night because it also has female foeticide as its theme. But unlike Kishwar’s book, there are many more issues on which the book focuses; we continually hear the reverberations of historical tragedies like the partition and the anti-Sikh riots of 1984. There is also a subtle reference to the rise of Hindu fundamentalism in 1990s.
The opening scene is, undoubtedly, the strongest part of the book. The author describes the brutal killing of an infant girl by her maternal grandmother, Damini, who wants to save her daughter from future distress for having so many daughters. Damini also finds justifications in religious scriptures for her heinous crime.
The cruelties shown by the father when he refuses to name his newly born third daughter and the mother who doesn’t breast-feed her child are as disconcerting as the final act of Damini.
Damini is one of two major characters of this novel. The other one is Anu, a woman stuck in a bad marriage. Anu has accepted Christianity but also follows the religion of her ancestors, i.e. Hinduism, and doesn’t find any contradiction between these two religions. Her only daughter, who is an outcome of marital rape, has been sent to Canada where she lives with Anu’s kind hearted and caring cousin. Here, in India, Anu decides to dedicate her life to social service and lands in Gurkot, a small village in the northern part of India, to work in a health clinic.
In this village, Anu aka Sister Anu comes across Damini, whom she has met once in Delhi. Damini joins Anu in her work. As a health worker Damini is involved in helping willing parents in sex selection of children. And here too she finds excuses to justify her ethically wrong actions. For her, killing a foetus is less brutal than killing an infant girl.
Through these two perfectly imagined characters, Shauna Singh Baldwin offers commentaries on the socio-political issues of contemporary India and you are made to see the dark gloomy corners of this largest democracy of the world that exist beyond the hype of “shining India”.
Culturally insightful and beautifully written, the novel covers many social and political matters that affected India during the last 65 years but, of course, the focus is on female foeticide and the status of women in Indian society.
The negative aspect of this book is its length as the pace of narrative is marred by the unnecessary use of expositions and too much cultural detail. The dialogues are also stretched beyond the desirable limits.