“Anita’s Predicament”, a story in “Sorrow, Happiness and Determination” by Rukaiya Dooreemeah, is about widowhood, and adoption. Anita is lucky to have a caring mother-in-law. Love abounds in the home till it is found that she can’t conceive. Dejected, she withdraws into a shell. As fertility tests prove negative, she increasingly feels insecure and incomplete. Relatives taunt her about her barrenness, thus making her life still more diffi cult. With the adoption of a baby her life is transformed. We are told that “She did not feel guilty or worthless anymore. To her, being a mother was the most wonderful thing that could happen to a woman.” (p 24)
However, her husband dies. She loses her optimistic self but realises that for the sake of the child she has to summon strength from within herself to face the obstacles that life has placed in her way. The adopted child gives a meaning to her life. Without him, she would easily have slipped into depression. Widowhood is no longer a bane the moment she has plenty of love to give.
She learns that no matter how many dirty tricks life plays on you, you need not give up. You’ve got to face the challenges. We see a woman with a great capacity to endure the turbulences of life with hope. She takes up boldly her responsibilities of raising a child as a single mother.
In “The suffering of a dear one”, the author looks at encephalitis (infl ammation of the brain) and how it affects the victim himself as well as the parents. Tariq, 9, experiences strange mood swings and we follow the family’s plight as they try to cope with an unexpected situation. We witness their incomprehension and their fear of losing the child. Despite their trauma, they struggle to make sense of their lives. The story focuses on how the mother fi ghts back against all odds to save the child. In so doing, she discovers the signifi cance of faith in God.
From a purely literary viewpoint, the ending, too moralistic in tone, is weak: “Instead of allowing anxiety to get the better of us, we must stay positive and take charge of our life and look out for ways and means of improving our well-being and make our weaknesses become our strength. Life is a precious gift and it must be lived to the fullest.” (p 99) Such reflections, far too obvious, mar the story. The rule demands that you tell your story, put a full stop once you’ve told it, and let the reader infer the meaning. Pushing evident conclusions down the throat of the reader is unnecessary.
“Shakti is thy name” by Chintamanee Chummun (ELP Publications, May 2011, prefaced by Nandini Bhautoo-Dewnarain) charts the ups and downs in the lives of Latchmi and her daughter Suman in pre-independent Mauritius, a time when Hindu girls used to get married early. A social document, the novel reproduces the wedding rituals and the superstitions of the time as well as the way of life of the Hindu family. Latchmi’s babies die and she is called a witch for ‘eating’ them. The novel draws a faithful picture of what it meant to be a woman in the days when poverty was rampant.
Girls were not educated and they took sewing lessons to earn a living. We see women carrying fodder, milking, collecting eggs and doing household chores. Boys could attend school. Suman remarks, referring to her brother, “He is the beloved son and I am supposed to be his slave.” Suman’s husband sends her home on a misunderstanding and subsequently she is married to someone 15 years older than her. These may seem small details but they take on a greater significance in the socio-economic context of the time when men had the last word.
Her dream is to see her two children succeed in their schooling. Women were aware that education was the crucial channel through which emancipation of girls could happen. She struggles to see them make a place for themselves in society. The novel is a tribute to the endurance and achievement of women.
In the stories and the novel considered here, we see women of remarkable courage and resilience, and their ability to triumph over their depths of despair.
Pushmaotee Fowdur Subrun exposes the life of a contemporary woman in “Ella” (May 2013). The novel (304 pages) considers a young woman’s outer and inner journey: as a globe-trotter she enjoys visiting the world’s cities, shopping, sight-seeing, food, and indulging in amusements but it is later in India that she experiences a journey within herself through meditation. She is a dedicated woman working as manager of a pullover department in a company; we see her dealing with files, meeting deadlines, catching up with work, and representing her company at international meetings with professionals to market her products. Incidentally, it just goes to show the tremendous progress women have made over the years.
She likes to “go on adventurous sprees” (p 105), and “dreams of adventures”. Marriage can wait. She wants to know and understand the world around her first. She is also a good human being who helps the downtrodden. She is an independent-minded girl, sure of what she wants. In India, she takes a spiritual revival. Her brush with the ashrams, the gurus and the scriptures will lead her to understand herself better. She discovers the marvellous world of simplicity, positive attitude, mental equilibrium, purity of thoughts and feelings, the transcendental, and the beauty of inner serenity.
Fulfilled. This is what she feels. No treasure matters to her more than this inner transformation. Knowledge of the world is as vital in our development as knowledge of oneself. She meets her soul mate too. Now that she has become a fully-rounded character, she feels she is ready for a journey of another kind – marriage. In a way, she is the ideal wife, well-prepared to take over the responsibilities of a family.