March 30, 2020
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Making Her Voice Heard

Good writing, but not great

Making Her Voice Heard
By The Sabarmati
By Esther David
Penguin India Rs 200; Pages: 188
IT's time for womenspeak. For voices un-heard, un-known, un-sited. A time when Indian English women writers are seeking to escape the denying male gaze and replace it with an affirming female vision. Esther David's second book, By the Sabarmati, connects with the inchoate Indian tradition of women writing for women about women'in English. The 22 short stories'some only four pages'interweaving fact with fiction give a gendered readership stories that are 'my story-your story'.

Set in the slums and pols of Ahmedabad the stories, chiselled to reflect the bare beauty of pain and unending sorrow, transcreate, translate into English the often bleak yet momentarily joyous lives of women who're the same'whether they're the married Amina or Vidya, the to-be-divorced, upper middle-class Ruchi, or the deserted, impoverished, unnamed Yiddish woman. Despite moments of compelling insight the book doesn't evince the spark of genius that distinguishes great writing from good.

A well-intentioned selection, it foregrounds David's commitment to the task of being a sincere transmitter of marginal lives'of maids, slum women, tribal, witchy women, and, for variety, some middle-class women too. These rivulets merge into the unsounded depths of the waters of women's stories worldwide'about survival, about strength, about despair rooted in iron-willed silence. However, it's the two stories where one hears the male voice, Kurma Avatar and Waiting for Shibraj, especially the latter that strike a note not often heard in women's writings'alternately sad and comic, everyday and novel.

David's book'to my mind'works best when read obliquely. Not as the story of surviving women and few right-minded men, but as a window into a variegated garden where the flowers are the colour, the smell and taste of unknown foods and rituals of those who live by the Sabarmati.

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