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Wednesday, 18 January 2017

Book Review: Padmavati, the Harlot by Kamala Das

Padmavati, the Harlot 
By Kamala Das
Sterling Paperbacks
Pages: 110 Price: Rs 45

Kamala Das is an enfant terrible of the Indian literary scene. Even well into late middle age. Rakishly sensual in her poems and prose, Das, in this collection of short stories, no longer seeks to shock.
With sensitivity Das takes us behind the purdah into the tattered world of the down-and-out woman - prostitutes, some with the proverbial golden heart. And some more sinned against than sinning.
There are no villains, only the force of circumstance and the weakness of men. Underneath the sadistic exterior of the policeman who likes little girls, lies compassion. Padmavati, the middle-aged prostitute who sells herself for her family, only to be shunned by them, yearns only for the gods, who treat her no better than her clients did. As the other woman, the kept woman who only wants her man's love.

Das doesn't shriek about oppression, which sits like a bell jar over her protagonists who lead lives of quiet desperation. There's no whisper of sloganeering or feminism. But by unfolding the everyday life, she has painted an unforgettable picture of the exploitation of all women.

Particularly moving is A Doll for the Child Prostitute, the centre piece of this volume. Through Rukmani, the 12-year-old girl sold to a brothel by her mother, Das shows that neither compassion nor emotions have entirely fled these sordid surroundings.

Unfortunately, Das' prose can get uneven. Some of the stories, like That Woman, The Young Man with the Pitted Face don't even have a, well, whiff of a story. Others are no more than barely captured moments or intersections in life. But in the end, this is a tender tribute to the long-suffering Indian woman and her resilience.

(Source: India Today)

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