Of losses and triumphs
Reviewed by Manmeet Sodhi

The Pages of my Life
By Popati Hiranandani.
Translated from Sindhi by Jyoti Panjwani.
Oxford University Press. Pages 179. Rs 495.

WITHOUT any pretensions and pompous claims of making feminist statements, Popati Hiranandaniís autobiography and excellent collection of short stories facilitate and force one to question the basic truths of womanís life: love, sacrifice, compassion, justice, respect and friendship.

A meticulous translation and critical introduction by Jyoti Panjwani stimulate the interest of reader and facilitate the grasping of the inner dynamics of Sindhi culture. The short stories may be read as fictionalised extension of Popatiís real life and raise issues pertaining to gender, identity, culture, social justice, trauma and memories.

Each of the 14 stories is unique in its own way. She writes about women in transition, women whose conventional lives are disoriented by time, and who sometimes dare to make changes, yet never victorious, never defeated. The narratives are told without bitterness, without complaints, without even sadness but as a matter of truth and with tenderness and affection.

These stories are full of partial glimpses into ourselves. The message is so universal that there is an instant empathy and engagement with the characters. Despite the dilemma, hardship and despair faced by the woman protagonist, they emerge out with latent strengths and stoicism.

The collection opens with The Coward, a story of unwed mother who rejects a socially sanctimonious life that would suffocate and constrict her. The Dark Brown Stain presents the image of suffering woman silenced by patriarchy, yet dares to counteract in her own way. The female protagonist in A Husband defies and resists; her fantasies get shattered in The Singer; enlightened new woman in I a Woman and The New Teacher; destructive consequences of sex trafficking in That Haunting Look. Stories like Soni Amma, Phatan, the Idiot, Now she was Junk recount betrayal by those whom they trust; they struggle, survive and sustain amidst adversity.

While there is nothing intellectual about these narratives, somewhere they strike the cord with the reader through their everydayness and simplicity. Her style is refreshingly simple, concise, open ended and invites interpretations.

On the whole, the work is a valuable addition to the growing literature from South Asia. It is an essential reading for anyone with an interest in cultural and gender studies, Indian literature in translation, comparative literature, Partition literature as well as general readers.