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‘Preeto and Other Stories’: 13 stories about women from the male perspective

Here men see women as inhabitants of the same planet

In the introduction to this collection, the editor Rakshanda Jalil says that there is a tendency among male writers to “...present women as black and white characters, often impossibly white or improbably black... such a monochromatic view inevitably results in women being reduced to objects, of being taken to be ‘things’ rather than ‘people.’” So she wanted to pick up the “thread of men seeing women as inhabitants of the same world that they live,” which became the idea behind the compilation.

The anthology contains 13 stories about women from the perspective of male writers. This can be seen as a companion piece to Neither Night Nor Day, a collection of 13 short stories by Pakistani women writers, edited by Jalil, which looked at the various ways in which women living in a patriarchal society viewed the lives of women around them.

Dealing with desire

As promised, the women in Preeto and Other Stories do not fall into the familiar binaries of being black or white but live up to the criterion of being “a combination of contraries.” However, in all the stories, the ‘femaleness’ of the main character is the framework on which the narratives are structured. Desire is a recurring theme.

‘Preeto and Other Stories’: 13 stories about women from the male perspective

While only a few stories like ‘Preeto’, ‘Man’, ‘Wedding Night’ touch upon the desires of women, many others, like ‘Driftwood’, ‘The Unexpected Disaster’, ‘A Bit Odd’, ‘The Well of Serpents’, ‘Shonali’, ‘Woman’, focus on the desires of men and their reactions to the women they come across.

‘Wedding Night’ is a fable-like story by Ratan Singh that explores the desires of both men and women and the follies committed in consequence.

In ‘Shonali’ by Faiyaz Riffat and ‘The Ash in the Fire’ by Abdus Samad, we see women in the role of caregivers turning into objects of desire. In the former, an ageing man directs his gaze without any qualms at the young girl who looks after him and his house, while in the latter a young girl has taken on a job of looking after an invalid, who is a comatose but handsome young man. The writer imagines what the girl must be feeling for the man in her care. In ‘The Unexpected Disaster’ by Hussainul Haque, the wife of a despotic man who is laid low by a stroke finds an admirer in the younger brother of the family’s accountant.

Difficult decisions

The title story ‘Preeto’ is written by one of the stalwarts of Urdu writing, Krishan Chander. It revolves around a woman’s tremendous fury, which time has not managed to melt, and the person who once had done her a wrong realises this too late.

In Gulzar’s ‘Man’, we are shown how a woman’s life is never her own and how her decisions can invite hostility even from her own son. “No matter what a woman might do, she always has to offer an explanation to a man. To a father, sometimes to a husband, and sometimes to a son.”

Some of the stories look at the difficult decisions women often have to make in life. In ‘The Heavy Stone’ by Baig Ehsas, the unnamed protagonist has to opt for an abortion against her wishes. She hears the unborn child calling out to her. But she must summon the strength to go ahead with the procedure and when she does, she takes a chilling decision.

Lack of desire is explored in Rahman Abbas’s story, ‘Asexual’. Here, a young woman rebuffs a suitor because she has nothing to offer him except friendship, which she instinctively knows is not enough for him. Another story where desire is not the leitmotif is ‘Awaiting the Zephyr’ by Syed Muhammed Ashraf, where the focus is on the beauty and dignity of a woman.

Lush with descriptions and interesting metaphors, each story in the collection attempts to look at different facets of women. While the trope of male desire keeps coming back, some of the stories go beyond this to offer a refreshingly different view of women from a male perspective.

The writer is an author and translator.

Preeto and Other Stories: The Male Gaze in Urdu; ed Rakhshanda Jalil, Niyogi Books, ₹450

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Printable version | Mar 31, 2020 6:29:31 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/books/preeto-and-other-stories-13-stories-about-women-from-the-male-perspective/article25796805.ece

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