Aparna Sanyal
Harper Collins
February 24, 2024
Final Verdict

About the Author

Aparna Sanyal holds an MA from Kings College, London. Recipient of the 14th Beullah Rose Poetry Prize by Smartish Pace, she was shortlisted for the 2018 Third Coast Fiction Prize.
This book is her first foray into fiction. Her debut book, Circus Folk & Village Freaks, released in October 2018 and was number one on the Amazon India Poetry Bestseller list. It is the first featured poetry recommendation on ‘Sonali’s Book Club’ and has stellar reviews in The Hindu, The Asian Age, The Indian Express, Midweek, et al.
Other Works By Aparna Sanyal
Circus Folk & Village Freaks

New Release: Instruments of Torture by Aparna Sanyal, A Collection of 8 Gripping Stories

Instruments of Torture: Stories is Aparna Sanyal’s debut work of fiction. In eight stories, torture devices from medieval times are employed as metaphorical tools to explore the dark recesses of the human minds. If the author’s earlier work, a poetry collection, Circus Folk and Village Freaks rendered stories of eccentric characters ostracized for their oddities in rhyming couplets, Instruments of Torture lays bare the psychological turmoil and internal conflicts of its characters in prose marked by a raw, no holds barred honesty.

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Contraptions, Characters, and Their Chronicles

Each story in the collection by Aparna Sanyal begins with a short note on a contraption from medieval times detailing how the device is used to inflict physical and emotional hurt. A story set in the current times begins thereafter bearing either a clear reference or a subtle hint to the device’s modus operandi. 

In the first story, ‘The Rack’, a boy diagnosed with dwarfism, shunned at school, jeered and abused by his parents who adopted him, poked repeatedly with multiple growth hormone injections to ensure ‘normal’ height is stretched on the rack unto his breaking point. In the next, ‘The Pillory’, a doctor gets a chance to redeem his unrequited love when he meets his love interest from college days, now a patient suffering from schizophrenia. The element of surrealism in this lends a singularly unique hue to the narrative.

‘The Spanish Boot’ where a woman who believes that a face caked in layers of makeup and strutting around in the highest heels will entice men bows in defeat solemnly to simplicity and plainness, ‘The Iron Maiden’ where a newly married couple saves their sexual life from remaining platonic by pure serendipity are nimble-footed, light-hearted stories. A twisted sibling rivalry, a husband who revels in his wife’s amorous expression of love oblivious to the ‘disease’ that afflicts her, and two boys beaten to a purple pulp by a homophobic society figure in other stories here. The last story, ‘The Chastity Belt’ ponders if chastity and fidelity are reserved only for women brims with voyeurism.

Bleak, yet Beautiful

Aparna Sanyal

Aparna Sanyal provides a list of trigger warnings right at the start, which lets us readers know we are in for some disconcerting stuff even before the stories begin. And as we tread these dark tales with caution, what arrests our attention is a certain tenderness in the portrayal of lives. All that the characters here look for are love and acceptance. When these are denied, a feeling of loss, anger, hatred, and frustration builds up rambunctiously before life slips into a fugue state devoid of purpose.

Though the themes here are pretty universal, lines like below – 

‘What is a sadness disease? How the hell can sadness be a disease?’ (from The Scold’s Bridle)

‘Gudiya, look how dark they’ve become in the sun! We don’t want that, do we?’ her mother would exclaim with horror. (from The Spanish Boot)

Reshu’s mother has made it amply clear to her son from the time his pubescent muscles had sprouted: he could bed everything in sight, but his bride would be chosen by her alone. (from The Chastity Belt) 

– are proof enough of the inherent ‘Indianness’ in the stories that allow an easy relatability. 

Parents who thrust their wishes on kids in the name of doing them good, a society that foments curiosity by strictly forbidding things rather than allowing an open, healthy discussion, and other topics of contemporaneous importance are tackled well. 

Aparna Sanyal

Using medieval instruments of torture as an inception point is commendable, but there are stories (The Judas Cradle, The Iron Maiden) where you doubt if this was really needed. Though the writing has an affecting clarity, the verbal calisthenics at places (eg: using kerfuffle instead of commotion) eats away at the impact.

Favorite Quote from Aparna Sanyal’s Instruments of Torture

Mohan attended an all boys school run by some rather strict members of the local parish and known proudly in this small city as a ‘pure padre-run seminary school’. The admissions were open only to boys of ‘decent, upright middle-class families’, and the padres were unsparing of the rod and unflinching in their duty towards raising ‘God-fearing, hardworking boys’. Thus, it was but natural that the school was filled to bursting with boys of barely contained depravity and unending lascivious curiosity.


In eight unsettling stories, in writing that’s sharp and astringent, Aparna Sanyal sheds light on some of the darkest alleyways a human mind traverses. She holds a mirror to our society that believes abuse – physical, mental, emotional, and love are two sides of the same coin, a society where any minor non-conformance to societal standards ushers in immediate and coercive ‘corrective’ action. Best assimilated at the rate of 1-2 stories a day, Instruments of Torture is impressive in how it delves deeply into the rot in our society using a few medieval instruments of torture as its bedrock.

Divya Shankar

Divya Shankar

Divya, an engineering and sciences graduate, with 7 yrs working experience in semiconductor industry is currently a stay at home mum. She loves books across genres, with a definite soft corner for historical fiction and Indian writing. Her other interests are cooking, blogging and travelling.

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