Woman to Woman Stories by Madhulika Liddle is a collection of a dozen short stories about women. The cover is a minimalistic yet stunning peak into the stories we are about to enter, filled with beauty, grace, violence and death.
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The Women and their Stories
The women in these stories come from different social strata, regions and age groups, but are united by their role in patriarchy.
Paro is about bride trafficking. It says an estimated 10 lakh trafficked brides known as ‘paros’ or ‘molkis’ are believed to live in the states surrounding Delhi. Ambika, Mother Goddess addresses the ubiquitous story of a young girl who gets raped and the cacophony of the society that the victim shames. Mala, narrated through the eyes of a three-year-old, is about a young woman who falls in love with the son of her rich employer, only to pay the price.
Woman to Woman discusses the rather unlikely meeting between a prostitute and a nun. In Collector of Junk, a young girl finds herself looking on as her mother listens to the woes of the world, always offering a sympathetic ear while harbouring a bitter secret. The Letter is a heartbreaking tale about an old and lonely mother awaiting her son’s arrival.
Two Doors and Wronged talk about different aspects of marital woes, while Maplewood chronicles the tale of an upper-middle-class woman who stays alone in a bungalow, raising some poignant questions on privileges.
Captive Spirit is about a woman’s obsession with jewellery that had her soul resisting death while her body perished. The delightfully titled The Sari Satyagraha is a relatively light-hearted story that takes us to the pre-Independence era, marking the surprising rebellion of a submissive wife against her mansplainer of a husband.
Poppies in the Nnow, set in Kashmir, is the tale of love, betrayal and revenge that lays the hypocrisy and irrationality of gender stereotypes bare.
Structure and Theme
Short stories can be challenging to write. The author has done a commendable job within the constraints of the length of each story. Almost every story in the collection comes with a delicious twist that is most satisfying.
The initial stories are straightforward and told with simplicity, becoming more complex as we read on.
Death is a recurring theme. It makes its first appearance in ‘Mala’ with a cruel twist. It reappears in ‘Maplewood’ and ‘Collector of Junk’ and takes a macabre form in ‘Captive Spirit’, bringing comfort and closure in ‘Poppies in the Snow’.
Woman to Woman tells the reader just how commonplace it is for women to be victims of violence, injustice and abuse, and how accepting our society is.
The stories of women are melancholic, which may be defeatist on the surface. Read ‘Paro’, ‘Mala’, ‘The Sari Satyagraha’ and ‘Poppies in the Snow’ closely and you see they do the opposite – by juxtaposing stories of loss and victory together, Liddle paints a real yet empowering picture.
These stories of women provide a glimpse into the lives of women across different segments of Indian society, and every woman will find value in them.
The writing is simple but impactful. The places and atmospheres feel authentic and the characters original, although the themes can get repetitive.
Gender equality is still a distant dream. Just like the world, patriarchy has also evolved, and it exists in sometimes subtle, sometimes blatant ways. So much has changed, yet a lot more remains unchanged, which is why these stories of women are a must-read.
This book is definitely worth a read and packs a knockout punch in less than 200 pages.
Unfettered Wings by Sana Munir, which you can buy here.