A Wonderful Story by a Leading Hindi Advocate of the Rights of Women
"Bitch" by Mrinal Pande is another great short story from the pages of The Little Magazine, the premier online and print literary and cultural magazine of South Asia.
Mrinal Pande (1946, Madhya Pradas, India) has had a very distinguished career as a print journalist. She is currently the editor of a major newspaper and has her own TV show. She has served on numerous commissions on the rights of women and children. She has taught at several major universities. She is the daughter of the very famous writer, Shivani (on whom I will, I hope, eventually post). She is married and has children. She published her first short story when she was 21 and basically has been writing ever since then. She writes in both Hindi and English.
"Bitch" (written in English) at once caught my eye as I was looking through the many short stories online at The Little Magazine. It is about a conversation a between a woman who hosts a TV show (as the author does) and her maid about an article they saw in the newspaper about a four year old girl whose parents married her to a dog in order to ward off the evil eye from their family. You can read it in just a minute or two. It told me a lot about how ordinary Indian women seem to feel about marriage. The maid can speak a bit boldly as she is herself a grandmother. (The maid likes her employer because she does not follower her around as she cleans or inspect her bag when she leaves. I just finished The Help last night and this story could be out of an Indian version.)
The TV commentator is trying to tell her maid what a shameful even illegal thing the parents have done in marrying a four year old girl to a dog. The maid thinks it is perfectly OK and feels a dog is a step up from most men. I really liked this exchange:
"“But don’t you see it is illegal? The police —”“What police?”
“The local police.”
“No, no, why should the police bother?”
“Because you can’t marry off a girl before she’s eighteen. It’s the law.”
“So? She’s not married to a man.”
“Gauri, don’t you see? Her parents could still go to jail for this.”
“Who will speak against them? The dog?” Gauri collapses in laughter.
“It is no laughing matter,” I say. But I, too, am laughing.
“Oh Ma, at least he won’t come home drunk and beat her. Or arm-twist her family for a wrist-watch or a bicycle, or get her pregnant as soon as he can, and then run off with another woman. A son of a bitch is better any day, Ma, any day, than the son of man.”
“But the girl...”
“What about the girl? She looks happy. She must have eaten her fill of sweets, been dressed in new clothes. What more can a girl want?”
“But why should she be married to a dog before she knows what marriage is all about?”
The maid then begins an account of the terrible events of her marriage.
"Bitch" is a really fun, beautifully written story that packs a lot in its few pages. I liked the spirit and admired the strength of character of the maid and her ability to keep laughing. If you like The Help (I for sure did and will post on it soon) you will like this story. I read it three times I liked it so much.
Mrinal Pande has another story in The Little Magazine that I will, I hope, eventually read and post on also.
You can read it online HERE
As I take my first tentative footsteps into the South Asia Short Story Reading Life Project (by which by my definition I will mean India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh for now) I am realizing it is not just three countries here but the remainder of dozens and dozens of languages, states and cultures that must be considered. One short story or author will lead me to another.
I will sort of be focusing on stories about the lives of women and children, the effects of the 1947 partition of India and the lingering effects of British colonialism. My first self indulgent objective is to enjoy myself!
I am very open to reading suggestions and corrections from those more experienced in this reading area.
I will still continue on with all of my old interests. So far all of the Indian authors I have written about have been highly educated and deeply into the best literature of the European tradition. Some write their stories in English, some in one of the many languages of South Asia. Some stories sound like they could be the plot of a modern TV show, some come from 5000 year old traditions. I will probably like almost all of the stories I post on as I tend not to post or even finish a work I do not like.