Variegated tales of women
Reviewed by Randeep Wadehra

Faces in the Water 
by Ranjit Lal.
Pages 202. Rs 199.

VARIOUS surveys reveal that daughters are least welcome in the educated upper-class families. As Surinder Aunty, nicknamed ‘The Warthog,’ says in this novel for young adults, "Let others have them ...!"

However, this is not a didactic piece of work preaching the evils of female foeticide/infanticide. On the contrary, it is an extremely entertaining narrative. The rich Diwanchand family lives in Delhi and also owns a farmhouse on the capital’s periphery. One day, the Diwanchands send their only son Gurmi to the farmhouse for a few days with strict instructions not to go near the well located there, which, Gurmi discovers, ‘houses’ his three sisters – Mohini, Nandini and Baby – and four female cousins. They become his friends and decide to teach the Diwanchands a lesson. 

The story’s most interesting feature is the lack of malice among the murdered girls’ ‘ghosts’ towards their parents and plenty of thrills, chills and crushes. The author uses "Real Virtuality" as a device to seamlessly weave in scenarios depicting possible happiness in the family had Gurmi’s sisters been allowed to live.

Ranjit Lal deserves a literary award for coming up with this thought-provoking thriller.

Voices in the Back Courtyard
Trans. Narinder Jit Kaur.
Pages XII+170. Rs 150.

This anthology has translations of Punjabi stories written by 15 women. Barring a few, most of these have women as protagonists, displaying resignation, resilience and rebellion vis-`E0-vis variegated situations, viz., love, tragedy, separation, sexploitation and incestuous rape.

Unrequited love is the leitmotif of stories like The Unfitting Cardigan and Trails of the Bare Feet, while love triumphs in The Purchased Woman. Wait explores the dark side of human nature: on the road passing by a slum a mentally challenged boy is run over by a car, providing opportunity for the slum dwellers to extort money from motorists passing by. The stories Face in the Mirror and Sparks in the Ashes dwell upon suppressed sexuality while resilience is the essence of Seven Maidens and The Survivors. Spook is a touching story of a selfless woman who is treated cruelly by an ungratefulsociety, while in Too Close too Distant it is an ungrateful son who realises his mother’s sacrifices too late. Trembling Shadow features a self-respecting woman, who walks out on a husband who bullies her. However, it is the last story Agony of a Daughter that stirs one up. As a "settlement" in a murder dispute two teenage daughters are given away in marriage to two men old enough to be their fathers. The story ends with one of the girls, Heena, walking out of the marriage when her father dies.

If the translation had been less stiff and the editing and proofreading done with diligence , the reading pleasure would have been greater.

Handbook on Wildlife Law Enforcement in India
by Samir Sinha Natraj.
Pages 198. Rs 495.

Wildlife forms one of the vital sustainers of this planet’s environment. Unfortunately, crass commercialism and human greed have been annihilating a large number of flora and fauna, including marine life, around the world at alarming rates. In order to protect the surviving species, it is important to have relevant information, which this handbook provides by collating and tabulating data on the poaching of rare plants and animals and the trade in their body parts. 

Herbs and other medicinal plants, tigers, musk deer, pangolins, tortoises, turtles, reptiles, live birds etc have become lucrative items in international smuggling. Some of the photographs, like that of a live rhino with wrenched off horn and raw wound, are spine chilling.

A valuable reference book for environmentalists, researchers, government agencies and the common man.