Goodreads blurb: In a typical village somewhere in the Deccan, justice arrives in a different form, A middle-aged Dalit mid-wife, Ramulamma goes about her day performing her services as a dai, looking for odd jobs in surrounding villages and occasionally in the city and countering constant ill-treatment from the local Inspector Sahib.
But there’s more to Ramulamma than her torn sari and the gold stud twinkling on her nose reveal. Through her wisdom and canny intuition, she finds her way around the most intractable problems with the deftest touch. She brings to book a powerful landlord for the rape and murder of a young Dalit girl, saves a falsely accused thief from a miserable fate and demonstrates to abusive policemen (And occasionally her high-born patrons) in her signature, subtle style the real meaning of duty.
With delicate wit and never-failing empathy, the twelve stories in this delightful collection expose the hypocrisies of our sharply divided society and celebrate the self-empowerment of its oppressed.
Given that this is the first compilation of short stories that I am reviewing, I intend to review each and every story separately with a three-four line opinion of what I thought about the story itself, finishing off with my thoughts about the book in its entirety.
The first story, which gives readers a quick insight into how smart, gutsy and practical the protagonist of this anthology is, provides a lovely introduction to Ramulamma. She uses the fact that she has been of assistance to a journalist in the past to very good advantage in this story, which also provides readers with a peek into the caste hierarchies that the village currently follows. It also provides an insight into how the policemen of the area kowtow to these hierarchies to ensure that they are always on the good side of the ‘rulers’ of the day.
The story itself deals with how Ramulamma dishes out justice in her own quirky way to a group of youngsters who raped and murdered a Dalit girl in one of their drunken binges.
A Cure for Sugunamma
One of Ramulamma’s patients Suganamma is down with a fever which the village doctor wrongly diagnoses as jaundice and prescribes a medicine. Ramulamma takes the hard decision not to follow the doctor’s prescriptions and using her years of wisdom in dealing with pregnant women and trusting her knowledge of the patient and her medication, decides to approach another friend of hers, a medical student and decides to administer a course of treatment for Sugunamma. Despite being hesitant to do so, the young medical student decides to help Ramulamma and between the two of them they end up curing Suganamma’s condition which also enabled her to deliver a healthy baby as well.
I personally am a little skeptical about how somebody like Ramulamma knew the nitty-gritties of which medicine to be used based on her understanding of Suganamma’s blood reports. At this point in time, I am hoping that the stories coming up in the anthology prove me wrong and there is more to Ramulamma than meets the eye.
She closes the case
While this story highlights the situation of the policemen of the region using any small excuse to torture and kill poor hapless villagers under the pretext of them being Naxalites, I didn’t quite understand this story in its entirety. To me, this story didn’t quite get proper closure despite it being quite promising.
In this story Ramulamma uses her sharp intellect and knowledge of political affairs well enough to put the entire Arshad family out of the troubles of hosting good ol’ Margaret ma’am from the Ol Blighty. What starts off with Arshad and his family looking forward to the visit and stay of Margaret, Arshad’s academic guide from his doctorate days soon ends up being quite a predicament for the entire family. How Ramulamma manages to solve this problem for the family forms the crux of the story. Although she is mentioned only in a couple of paragraphs in this story, her role proves to be quite pivotal. Laced with dark humor, this remains my favorite story so far.
The grandest wedding in town
When a wallet containing the passport and credit cards of the bridegroom goes missing, the entire extended family of Govindaraja, the bride’s father is left looking for the same. A few hours later when the local police catch a poor Dalit sweeper woman with the wallet when she was cleaning the dustbin outside the house, she is immediately branded the thief and taken to task.
However, the kindness of Govindaraja and Ramulamma’s testimony that the sweeper didn’t even enter the house that day convinces the police to let her go. However, there is more to the story, and how Ramulamma approaches the actual thief and tells him as to how she understood why he did what he did forms the last couple of pages in this story, and the reasoning she provides is quite juicy, to say the least.
The Aussie Volley
In this story Ramulamma uses an accident to her advantage and extracts revenge on somebody with whom she had more than bone to pick. While there is nothing quite extraordinary about this story by itself, it just deepens reader understanding of the nexus between policemen, politicians and people in power and reinforces the belief that ‘money and power’ can buy anything, more so in rural India.
A Million Protestors
Through this story the author highlights the phenomenon of ‘sponsored NGOs’ who have seeped well and truly into our society and under the guise of working towards the betterment of the locals, tirelessly pursue their clandestine hidden goals.
A well written story which also highlights the human side of Ramulamma where she almost seems to fall prey to the temptation of quick money.
A story in which Lisa the dog is as much, if not more of a hero than the Dalit Dai. This story reads quite like the ones we see in TV serials and is very predictable with no surprise twists at all.
I wonder if it just me or are the stories getting more and more predictable as the book goes on?
In Whom We Trust
This story left me disturbed when I was reading it and stayed with me for quite a while after finishing it as well. Although it is quite a simple narrative with no complicated twists and turns, the things it leaves untold leaves behind enough food for thought. It makes readers think twice about people, causes, NGOs who we take for granted and believe at face value. It makes us understand that we need to look beyond the veneer, the published truth and verify facts for ourselves before we jump in and support them and their stated mission.
The Case of the Missing Necklace
This story is probably the shortest yet the smartest one in the anthology so far. Here, Ramulamma clearly displays her powers of deduction, understanding of human nature as well as a spirit of compassion and camaraderie even to those who have not necessarily treated her well in the past. A bittersweet whimsical piece of writing.
Status of Prosperity
In this story, Ramulamma narrates an incident from her past where once again using her intuition and good understanding of human nature managed to convert what was once the laughing stock of the region to a religious sentiment. By playing on the worst fears and the staunch faith of the locals, Ramulamma manages to have the last laugh, keeping the naysayers at bay.
Lessons for a writer
In this semi-autobiographical tale, the author seems to be narrating how he put together this anthology of short stories involving the protagonist and how he has drawn from the real life experiences of some Dalit women he personally knew or encountered or heard about.
While this book is a fairly quick and breezy read, it somehow failed to capture my imagination to the fullest possible extent. I really am not able to put my finger on why it didn’t work for me. While the first few stories and the last few ones were really good, somehow the author lost my interest in the stories in the middle of this book.
Nevertheless it is a noble attempt by the author to highlight some of the social stigma surrounding Dalit women in villages even today, the unholy politician-policemen-landlord nexus in these areas, the scourge of self-sustaining and self-serving NGOs and associated topics.
Disclaimer: A review copy of this book was given to me by the publishers, however, the above review is completely unbiased.