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Paperback Pickings

Bare bodies and ravaged nations

Across the Crossfire: Women and Conflict in India (Women Unlimited, Rs 275) edited by Pamela Philipose and Aditi Bishnoi studies the impact of conflict on the lives of women in strife-ridden regions and situations and how it is reported in the media. Such stories do not find a place in conventional “conflict discourse” because the media “routinely overlooks them”. The editors say that women are often doubly marginalized in situations of strife — first they are subjected to torture by “state and non-state actors”, later by their families and society. The first half of the book documents the stories of women whose lives have been “interrupted” by disruptive forces, ranging from landmine blasts in the Indian-Pakistan border to Maoist insurgencies in Bijapur and Dantewada. The second half, aptly named, “Survival Guides”, compiles reports that challenge the notion of powerlessness often associated with women in such troubled areas. The concluding segment brings to light the unsung heroes who have risen from the ruins to make a difference in the lives of people affected by “disruptive developments” .

Sita’s Ascent (Penguin, Rs 299) by Vayu Naidu is a feminist retelling of the Ramayan from Sita’s point of view. The author attempts to grant agency to Sita, whose voice is often lost in the patriarchal world order. Naidu conjures up a fictional account by forgetting the “age-old familiarity” with the characters of the epic. The chronicle begins after Sita, an expectant mother, is abandoned in Valmiki’s ashram as per Rama’s orders. The story talks about the pangs of child-birth, the bonds of sisterhood, and the notion of female gaze — Soorpanakka talks about princes and their “bare upper bodies” and about desire, which is the “single thread” that binds humans and rakshasas together. In the Note at the end, the author talks about storytelling and the function of memory. This novella is readable: the author succeeds in her endeavour of reconstructing Sita as one who is “inventive and resourceful”.

Kabulnama (Niyogi, Rs 250) by Amitabha Ray, translated from Bengali by Milan Brahmachary, documents the writer’s personal experience in war-ravaged Afghanistan. The author’s narrative is not just about the Taliban’s belligerence but also describes the workings of the Pashtun society and the people’s solidarity in the backdrop of war. The book is full of beautiful photographs of Kabul’s landscape that belie the prevailing tension in the region.