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30 Nov 2023, 17:09 HRS IST
  • PTI

    • Anindita Ghose's debut novel shines light on conflict over choices women make

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    13:9 HRS IST

    By Trisha Mukherjee

    New Delhi, Aug 1 (PTI)
    Women's choices have historically been a contested site in politics, but in the imagined world of Anindita Ghose's debut novel they find space in a utopian state called Meenakshi where patriarchy and its rules are not allowed to intrude.

    The Illuminated shatters age-old notions that have traditionally pitted women against women to show how and why sisterhood can be life altering, making the world a kinder place to live in.

    Patriarchy divides women, it conditions women to be suspicious of one another and to compete with one another. In a story where women are in the light, female friendships were important for me, especially friendships that transcend societal fences, Ghose told PTI in an email interview.

    At the centre of her 300-page novel is mother daughter duo Shashi and Tara who rediscover themselves -- and each other -- in the aftermath of the death of Robi, husband and father, respectively, around whom their lives revolved.

    The two women take their journey, first on parallel tracks and then together, crests and troughs that Ghose has appropriately compared to the different phases of the moon.

    Disclosing the genesis of the moon metaphor, the Mumbai-based author said, It started off with a lunar scheme informing the names of the women and the chapter titles. Eventually, it expanded to the metaphor of light.

    In The Illuminated', the men are named after the sun. Why do our lives revolve around the sun? I was interested in questioning the accepted hierarchy of the solar system, she said

    Shashi and Tara's journey of emancipation reaches culmination with a little help from their friends their women friends.

    For Shashi, there is her long-time house help Poornima and her colleague Sunita. For Tara, there is her friend Noor.

    If one were to pull out a moment from recent past that has connected women more than ever, it has to be the MeToo and Time's Up movements that saw women across the globe unite against sexual abuse and harassment.

    Ghose has reinvented this sentiment of sisterhood to create Meenakshi -- a state where women are in charge, and one that has taken over the primetime slots in Tara and Shashi's worlds -- vis- -vis the fundamentalist organisation MSS (Mahalaxmi Seva Sangh) that is determined to put women in their place , which is not far from reality either.

    The author, a former journalist, has embedded in the book MSS posters headlined dangers of women living alone , recommended jobs for widows , and the Health problems of Impure Children (born of mixed religion and inter caste marriage) .

    As Shashi and Tara undertake their journeys under the shadow of these two radical schools of thought, MSS' instructions on what women should eat and wear and on their rights to own property, create a fearful and not too far-fetched picture of a world that might await women living today in India.

    I thought posters were a good way to convey the growth of a vigilante organization like the MSS. The poster design also conveys a progression in their ideas. With cannily timed tax raids on media houses and journalists being arrested for sedition, perhaps fiction is now the place to tell truths," Ghose said.

    Admitting that the idea of the state of Meenakshi is an extreme one, the 38-year-old asserted that exploring all possibilities was imperative to the process of finding the ideal middle ground.

    We have to explore all ideas, all extremes, before settling on a solution that fits. To use the example of #MeToo, we needed a seemingly overnight, radical idea like that to address years of entrenched inequality.

    So you have a certain kind of fundamentalist political ideology and then you have Meenakshi, which is the other extreme. Neither is sustainable in the long-term. The way I see it, the synthesis happens outside the novel. Sometime in the near future. It is for the reader to write that part, Ghose said.

    It was important for Ghose that her first book told stories of women, which is why it isn't a coincidence she has dedicated it to her mothers and grandmothers .

    I suppose we write about what affects us the most, whether that means it gives us joy or that it torments us. The spaces that women occupy are of interest to me.

    Increasingly, I feel there is more connecting women to each other than dividing us. Dedicating it to my mothers and grandmothers is to acknowledge that sense of continuum. Your context might change, the vantage of privilege might change, but we are in this together. We have always been in this together, she explained.

    What is her version of an ideal world for women?

    There cannot be an ideal world for women without an ideal world for everyone. Because all forms of oppression are linked, Ghose said.

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