Reading slump is the worst period ever. And for me, this period ended recently, after 5 dreadful months.
The honour for this great deed has to be given to the work by PARINI SHROFF called THE BANDIT QUEENS. This was a random book, which, for the first time in forever, I picked solely based on the plot.
And did I enjoy it? Read on
This novel takes place in a small Gujarati village in India. The ladies in this village, bounded by a small loan group, can be barely called “friends”. One of the ladies, Gita, has apparently “lost her husband”, that is he has disappeared out into the unknown. The narrow-minded villagers link this disappearance to Gita and frame her as a murderess.
But this terror amongst villagers leads to her living a peaceful independent life, with a jewellery business flourishing in her hand. Until one day, another woman of that group comes up to her with a weird request:
a request to kill her husband like Gita killed hers.
and this is the beginning of a funny frenzy of women in this village plotting rather casually for the murder of their husbands.
This is the first time I have read anything which can be categorised as “dark comedy”. And I will emphasize comedy. I was crying buckets at 3 in the morning, with a blanket stuffed in my mouth, trying not to wake the whole house up.
As an important side note, it needs to be kept in mind the REASON why the women are ready to go to such heights. The book deals with issues of domestic violence and patriarchal disadvantages that women of such small villages have to bear. Although the overall book is hilarious, thanks to the witty conversations, the layer below is filled with abusive and vile men, who disregard the value of their wives, giving this book a dark turn
Hence “dark comedy”
Opinions and Character Analysis *spoilers*
I wasn’t hoping to like this book as much as I did. From the very beginning, I had understood the comedy arc of this novel, which unsettled me, considering the heavy themes. But the way Parini Shroff wove this story, turned it into an absolute entertainer.
1. I find Gita’s character quite likeable. Actually very. She is a hard woman, strengthened with time and situation alike. Thus although her primary imagery can be compared with an actual bandit, the progression of the story reveals her to be a simple woman, broken due to her family and husband.
The simple fact that she is surviving in an obstinate village where people have already labelled her as a churel (witch) proves her calibre and power over her independence.
2. Her husband, Ramesh really is a punching bag. I want a fun-sized version of his so that I can work those knuckle muscles of mine. Throughout the novel, there is an evident character buildup of his which in the end, is ruined by himself. He brainwashes her, beats her, manipulates her, and then tries to coo up with a few puny tricks.
One flaw is the author’s inability to explain WHY he goes to the extreme extent of initially disappearing for 5 years, then returning only to act blindand put his wife at gunpoint for a man who is too fuzzy to be even taken seriously.
Rest, his character, although only mostly presented as fragments of Gita’s memories, ends up taking a slight spotlight of its own.
3. Saloni. Saloni hands down is the most entertaining woman of the lot. She has a lot of beef with Gita, thanks to their best-friend status years prior. She represents a typical “wealthy” woman of the village, who is quite happy with her decent husband and kids. But that doesn’t stop her from not getting involved in this mess.
Her and Gita’s rekindling is the most heartfelt part of this book. From the initial high walls they keep around each other to the witty comebacks and insults both of them have ready to splurt, their arc was realistic and easy to sympathise with. Not for one moment do both of them lose the chemistry they had growing up.
Although she is jolly and is seldom taken seriously, her seriousness towards the whole “Women and their horrible husbands” issue represents her maturity towards the grave problem all the females are facing. And even though she has a tendency to ruin plans, her sticking up for Gita the whole time was the sweetest thing ever.
4. This character had me on the edge the whole time. For the majority of the book, I wanted to punch Farah, the lady who came up with the request to murder her husband and the reason for all the mess. But I kept in mind her helplessness and trust issues, due to the ultra-violent and abusive husband she had. She had kids to look after and thus always kept her interests first. This did tickle the wrong nerves sometimes, but towards the end, she also becomes one of the ladies who does sympathise with others and is willing to help, but not at the cost of her and her remaining family’s safety.
At the start, Farah seemed like the dumb sidekick who would follow along like a lost puppy. But all the women of this weird village had hidden cards to show. She, once dependent on Gita slowly turned the tables and made Gita fear her. This makes her a character almost equivalent to Gita, which Gita herself becomes afraid of. Farah took matters into her own hands and, although her acts were hasty and shocking (like the one case where she tried to poison Gita’s Samosas), it isn’t that big of bewilderment that at this point, everyone cares about themselves first. Only once stabilized, did she offer a rather reluctant helping hand to others.
So in my opinion, after Gita, Farah was the most “colourful” character and kept me interested all the time.
[P.S Gita’s budding relationship with Karem was also engaging, although it didn’t get any closure by the end. The addition of Karem implied that HEY! Humbled men can also be found amongst a bunch of rotten apples. His character dissolved the overall negative masculinity that was going on throughout the book. Plus he was a really likeable character, with no ulterior motives]
My overall experience reading this book was refreshing, to say the least, and after quite a long time did I finish a book in one sitting. The balance of comical characters wrapped up in serious situations gave a new outlook on how representation of such issues can be done in a more light-hearted way, but without ripping the soul matter away, i.e awareness towards abuse and lack of importance of women in closed-off societies.
Definitely a book worth a read.
Special thanks to this book for giving me SO MUCH STUFF to write upon.
Until next time