Between the lines
In the closing chapter of the book, Safia, the protagonist, reflects on what may be the book’s final message.’We leave the places we’re born, the places we’re meant to die, and we wander into the world as defenseless as children… how long the journey, she thought. How far away that abode of peace.”
Shobha Rao’s ambitious collection of stories begins with a preface reminding us about the partition of the Indian subcontinent and the transfer of people to and from the new nations of India and Pakistan. An Unrestored Woman explores the fault lines in this mass displacement of humanity; a new mother is trapped on the wrong side of the border; a soldier finds the love of his life but is powerless to act on it; an ambitious servant seduces both master and mistress; a young prostitute quietly, inexorably plots revenge on the madam who holds her hostage.
The book is a collection of tales of families shattered during partition.With one decree, countless lives are changed forever. In paired stories that hail from India and Pakistan to the United States, Italy, and England, we witness the outcome of the violent uprooting of families, the price they pay over generations, and the unreal relevance these stories have in our world today.
An Unrestored Women is a debut story collection of author Shobha Rao. A 13-year-old widow, Neela, faces the continuation of her loveless marriage after her husband, mistakenly reported dead comes back to claim her from a refugee camp.
The Merchant’s Mistress and Neela’s friend from the camp, Renu, becomes the servant and lover to both a diamond merchant and his wife until an opportunity presents itself for her to escape. Other featured characters include a gay British officer who is afraid of being fired after he kills a Sikh officer he was attracted in an uprising during Partition to; a Hindu cartographer who moves the proposed boundaries of the Radcliffe Line in the hope of personal gain; and a Hindu woman and a young Muslim boy who work to escape from a train under attack in Pakistan.
Halfway through the story, it becomes evident that author’s real concern is with violence and justice, rather than history. She neglects the difficulty of being an immigrant in the United States and Britain but instead focuses on how the choices the characters make reverberate for years and across generations.
It illustrates that just when you think you know the character and have become familiar with the protagonist in the prequel, the sequel story shows that the protagonist is just a mist. Everything is relative. Many ideas, such as sexuality, freedom, boundary and violence have been subverted.