In her now-canonical essay “The Crane Wife”, CJ Hauser writes: “To keep becoming a woman is so much self-erasing work. She never sleeps. She plucks out all her feathers, one by one.” It is such tremendous writing that you hate it for its clarity of truth. The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff attempts to reimagine what carving out a life as a woman under the oppressive social regime of rural India could look like, and is a triumph in both its sensibility and handling of the story.
The setting is a nondescript village in Gujarat, where Geeta’s husband Ramesh abandoned her one ordinary Tuesday night five years ago, and she has been branded a “churel” ever since. The lack of a husband condemns her to the life of a social outcast: she is at once a boogeyman, a bringer of misfortune, and as we find out, a subject of some envy.
Geeta has found a way to sustain her fierce independence through her small jewellery-making operative of one. Part of a micro-loan collective that lends women money to support their small businesses, she pretends indifference to its other members, like Saloni, once Geeta’s closest friend – not just on the same team but “the same player” –…