A well-dressed nurse-attendant who steals money; a woman whose ‘scam’ is to marry and loot hapless men, who finally is, cluelessly, in love with her 15th husband; a Vaishnavi who has hurled the family cow, the mother-in-law and the husband over a cliff into the river and leads an ascetic life as penance; another who kills her husband, only to find he is reborn in another village and she must go there to atone—Shivani’s tales of guilty women, of women in prison, of women without men, are delightful.
Shot through with gentle humour and wry self-deprecation, and filled with compassion, these non-fiction tales, from a time when prison doctors and wardens invited outsiders to talk to inmates, have been elegantly translated by Shivani’s daughter Ira Pande.
Considered ‘popular’ rather than literary, most of Shivani’s fiction is untranslated. It wasn’t until Ira Pande wrote Diddi, based on her mother’s life, that the English reading public began to be aware of Shivani’s formidable oeuvre. Apradhini, comprising stories of mostly women murderers, thieves, tricksters and religious pretenders and believers, makes for an excellent introduction to her work, valuable not only for the stories themselves but also as a lens on a different time and life.