Saturday, 21 January 2012

'Witness the Night' by Kishwar Desai.

Warning- Not a review.

Whenever I visit the library, I embark upon a random book selection spree. I highly envy those creatures who seem so full of purpose, settled on those sleek chairs with a notebook , taking notes ferociously as if some gigantic monster would soon appear and gobble up the reference book (on a serious note, I understand the hurry, some people actually study, unlike me ). Now my selection of books is dependent on a number of factors, like whether I am in a mood to wear spectacles or not. See, it's simple, if I wear spectacles I can see the books on the top shelf, but if on that day my nose feels particularly ticklish, I leave them in the box, on these days my choice is limited to the middle rows. I usually grab a books that look interesting, (unless they are classics of course), earlier I would glance through the last page, but experience has taught me that that is in some cases a shortcut to deception and disaster. So now i carry these shortlisted books to a table, and try to read the first couple of pages to see whether I actually want to read more. Before you condescendingly label me as stupidity personified, let me tell you, glancing through 5 books , sitting beside those erudite people is a brave act.

Upon such a routine visit I picked up this book  by Kishwar Desai. The difference was that in this case I did not read those first two pages, because I instantly knew I want to read this one. A girl in a found in a huge house with 13 of her family members murdered, she herself traumatized and the prime suspect. Sensational enough? My head screamed "Aaj Tak" stuff.  But at times I do watch Aaj Tak and the like, just to find out what the hell is it! and for similar reasons , I issued this book.

I started and finished the book today. It was, as promised, a page turner. A little predictable but not lacking pace, Unevenly written ,  reading the first sections of the book was a jerky affair but as the story progressed I was too involved to care. The protagonist is Simran, a 40 something social activist,who defies traditions and strives endlessly to find out the truth about the fourteen year old Durga accused of murdering her own family members.Yet the book is not a typical run-of-the-mill crime novel. (One can predict the culprit.)

The book presents the terrible plight of the women in certain households in North India, where patriarchy reigns supreme. From female infanticide and corruption , it does not shy away from presenting any unpalatable reality.  However at times the editorial like passages slow down the narrative. The ending is not very convincing and the book is not a masterpiece but certainly it is worth a read. It tells us nothing that we don't know about the situation, nothing that documentaries and newspapers and articles have not told us, but the disinterested lines of a newspaper or the sensationalized lines uttered by a smug  TV anchor does not come close to a book that transports you to another world and makes you literally imagine, what it would have been like to exist in such a place. As she herself says in an interview -

 "My idea was that if I could get readers to connect emotionally with what it is to be an unwanted girl child growing up, then there could be some change that could come out of that. I wanted people to feel the anger that I felt - and to think that, in some small way, that has come true is a huge reward."  (Source:

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