Though we don’t like to admit it publicly, there is a horrendous imbalance in power between men and women in Indian society. In her collection of stories, The Rock That was Not, Githanjali explores the various horrifying ways in which this imbalance manifests itself—often in the form of intimidation and violence from those closest to one.
Githanjali is the pen name of Dr Bharathi, a doctor and sexologist. That gives a little context to the detailed pictures she draws of women’s suffering she observes around her. Of course, it takes nothing from her honesty and willingness to speak out on behalf of a million victims, who are all around us.
For example, take Prathima, the protagonist of the titular story. Because she is skinny and doesn’t have a “full” figure, her husband coerces her into a dangerous breast enhancement surgery. She winds up suffering from the aftereffects—but her husband is protective only of the breasts he has paid to get, not of her. In another story, Suseela is rejected by her husband because of a “loose” vagina after childbirth, so she opts for surgery to tighten it, again paying the consequences in myriad ways.
In yet another tale, a teenager is repeatedly raped by her father and forced to stay quiet about it—but speaking up brings its own set of problems with society. And so on. Women are at fault for just being women. The burden of all relationships is squarely on their shoulders, whether daughter, wife, or mother, and they are not to have any expectations of their own.
Githanjali’s anger is palpable when she is writing these stories. She sees the pain and tears that society refuses to notice, and she underlines the imbalance between the gender roles in traditional Indian society. None of these stories have a happy ending, nor do they end with catharsis or deliverance for the characters. Githanjali does not indulge in wish fulfilment—she records reality.
Given that she wears her agenda on her sleeve, the reader must take in these stories in the same spirit: as a testimony rather than as simple story. Even so, the stories deliver their impact, and stick in your mind, with a brute force that mere art would not possess. Yes, reading them all at a stretch is wearying in the way that reading depressing newspaper reports is wearying.
A ray of hope comes in for the victims from modern, enlightened society: female doctors, social workers, teachers. More often than not, it is the New Woman helping out the oppressed woman, rather than any support coming from men. Githanjali suggests that women need to find their own way out of their problems.A word about the translation. The standards of the Ratna Translation Series books have been uniformly high, and K Suneetha Rani does a commendable job of maintaining them.
The feel of the original text is retained while making it readable in English. Probably as a deliberate decision, slangy Indian English is the choice of language (“You fellow!”, “It’s long since we ate…”).
This book should be read by Indian men and women, for different reasons: by women, to know that their problems are seen and documented, and by men, to experience the unfairness of the world as seen through a woman’s eyes. Just don’t expect a pleasant experience.
The Rock That was Not
Publisher: Ratna Books