Today I am sharing my thoughts on BHAIRAVI: THE RUNAWAY, by Shivani urf Gaura Pant, an era-defining Hindi author, whose works are often paralleled to Jane Austen’s.
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(This blog post also contains a review copy that was sent to me by publishers. However, all opinions expressed are my own and in no way influenced by external parties)
A still, dense, ancient forest. A dark cave deep within. And in it a woman-child whose beauty can move the most pious to sin. Who is she and why did she jump from a moving train to land in the biggest cremation ground teeming with Aghori Sadhus?
In this story spanning generations and redolent with Gothic imagery, Shivani urf Gaura Pant tells the story of a woman’s life, her moral and mental strength, and her resilience. She also examines the choices women have in her beautiful, descriptive prose. With an erudite foreword by her daughter and scholar, Mrinal Pande, and a preface by the translator, this book is Shivani for the 21st-century reader.
Bhairavi was a stunning book and I loved it in its entirety. Even during the parts where the characters were not particularly likable or the situation they were going through was not entirely conducive, I thought that it was so real and something that could have perhaps happened to someone we know.
Narrative technique in Bhairavi
Talking about the writing style and the language used, I think it was very earthy and very Indian in the sense that even though it was in English, it really had an essence that was essentially that of a particular people and their cultures. It also had a very folktale-ish vibe as if it is an oral story that is being narrated to you. I think this is because of the ways in which the author has incorporated the folktale traditions of India into her writing – for instance, when narrating the anecdotes or talking of the relationships between people and so on.
Mother-daughter dynamic in Bhairavi
Then comes the most compelling and riveting and at the same time, the off-putting relationship of the mother-daughter duo. Chandan is a beautiful girl, an ‘apsara’ and that is the reason and excuse for why her mother binds her in the way she does. Rajeshwari is an over-protective mother and when one learns of her past, it is in a way the reason why she is like that. But then again, having gone through what she had as a young girl, I believe she should have been more understanding of her daughter and her wishes.
In that case, I suppose the saying is right – we grow up to be like our parents. But is that justification enough? Is it even right?
While I believe it is certainly getting better in contemporary times, I cannot deny that there are still some parents who unjustifiably coddle their daughters. Let me rephrase that, they are over-protective and downright oppressive. Wouldn’t that explain why so many of the kids we know nowadays, are good at sneaking and lying? I think a certain bit of leniency is needed so that both the kid and parents learn to trust each other’s decisions and not lie and sneak around.
Human prejudices in Bhairavi
There are also various prejudices that were shown via the thoughts of Rajswari in this book. Westernized people do not get any respect from her; rather, she curses her meat-eating neighbour and then is surprised by the way modern women live. All in all, I do believe it is a good reflection of the times that the book is set in, but I do hope we take a lesson from it. Just because it used to be that way in that past, doesn’t mean we do not change the way it goes.
Bhairavi in the end
Overall, I really enjoyed this book and Chandan’s journey was a long and learning one. Of course when the book ended, she still had a long way to go. However, she finally was in control of her fate and life, as it were. Beautiful writing and real-living characters, with an honest portrayal of the various issues that plagued society then (and in some ways, even now)!
I rate it 4/5 stars!
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