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By Saheli Mitra SAHELI MITRA
  • Published 28.11.03

Stories of the Downtrodden By Anil Gharai, Dey’s, Rs 170

The stories speak of the struggle for existence, they speak of human feelings reflected in their barest forms; of ambition, greed, jealousy, love and hatred that rule man’s existence. Having had the opportunity of viewing the “downtrodden” at close quarters, Anil Gharai has successfully brought to life the stories of those who have been exploited down generations but who still survive to carry on the legacy of their forefathers. Stories of the Downtrodden speaks of rural India and its folks and each story brings out a particular section of society to the forefront and speaks of their joys and sorrows.

This collection breaks through barriers of caste, creed and religion to present the voices. The characters speak for themselves, like the poor tribal girl, Habhati in “The Almond Flowers”, who breaks down completely when she is raped by the babus who had come to her father’s land to graze their cattle. She could not even resist when his father sells her beloved almond flowers to those babus for some money. She refuses to show her face to the sepoybabu who she loved and had thought would marry one day. Habhati feels that she has lost everything, her love and also her almond flowers.

Gharai’s other heroine, Bindiya, a beautiful and young banjara woman, shows rare courage when she takes up her battle against the policeman who had wanted some intimacy with her. She had seen how women of her clan were exploited physically by the police force. So instead of conceding to the man’s demands, she decides to fight it out. She lures the policeman into her trap and then kills him. She not only saves her own skin, but saves many other women from disgrace. Bindiya’s courage is quite different from Habhati’s lonely figure.

Yet there is an eternal bond that the two women share. They both represent the hundreds of women who are exploited every day in a society that cares little for them because they happen to be poor.

The stories also speak of interpersonal relationships and how they change. In “Gangman”, when old and honest Iswar tries to save the railway’s property from being looted, he is murdered by his own son. Having lost the job of a gangman after an accident, Iswar was serving as a chowkidar but his son wanted him to retire so that he would get the job and earn more money. The father had also thought of retiring and asking for a job for his son. But his son failed to realize what his father’s intentions were and killed him while stealing.

Other stories like “The Palanquin”, “The Eternal Bond”, “The Plunderer”, “The Seeds and Hunger” are also worth mentioning. In a word, Stories of the Downtrodden, speak for those who have no voice of their own.