Book review: Preeto & Other Stories: The Male Gaze in Urdu
Edited and introduced by: Rakhshanda Jalil
Publisher: Thornbird / Niyogi Books
Price: Rs 399
Put together by literary historian and a proponent of non-English Indian literature Rakhshanda Jalil, this collection of short stories, translated from Urdu, showcases varied ways that Indian writers in Urdu ‘see’ women. As Rakhshanda explains in the introduction, “Be it muse or mother, vamp or victim, fulsome or flawed, there has been a tendency among male writers to view a woman through a binary of ‘this’ or ‘that’ and to present women as black-and-white characters, often either impossibly white or improbably black.”
Intrigued by how men view women and write about them, she has selected Indian writers in Urdu and stories that focus on their portrayal of women in their writing. The result is a fascinating tour through India and the Indian man’s mind.
In the title story Preeto, written by Krishan Chander, decades of marriage conceal inside them a dark secret that both partners keep to themselves, erupting eventually in a crime of passion.
In Driftwood by Deepak Budki, a father’s incestuous relationship with his daughter leads to an expected if unfortunate outcome. The entire piece A Bit Odd by Zamiruddin Ahmad is written as a dialogue between friends, laying bare the moving story of a family and the society they live in.
Even though some scenarios are highly unlikely, such as Ash in the Fire by Abdus Samad, where a female nurse falls in love with her male paralytic patient, it does not diminish their impact and emotion.
In fact, there is no point in burdening fiction with an expectation of realism. The purpose of this collection may have been to present a kind of ‘reverse’ gaze – the object of a subjective ‘male gaze’ looking back with objective scrutiny – but even if one isn’t aware of the curator’s aim, the stories are as touching, provocative and engrossing as all good literature should be.
With an analytical perspective, they are enlightening. Without it, they are still worth the read.
First published in eShe’s March 2019 issue