New Delhi: Women’s choices have been a contested site in politics, but in the imagined world of Anindita Ghose’s debut novel The Illuminated, they find space in a utopian state called Meenakshi where patriarchy is not allowed to intrude.
The Illuminated shatters age-old notions that have pitted women against each other to show how and why sisterhood can be life altering.
“Patriarchy divides women, it conditions women to be suspicious of one another and to compete with one another. In a story where women are in the light, female friendships were important for me, especially friendships that transcend societal fences,” Ghose told PTI in an email interview.
At the centre of her novel is mother daughter duo Shashi and Tara who rediscover themselves and each other in the aftermath of the death of Robi, husband and father, respectively, around whom their lives revolved.
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The two women take their journey together, and troughs that Ghose has compared to the different phases of the moon.
Disclosing the genesis of the moon metaphor, the author said, “It started off with a lunar scheme informing the names of the women and the chapter titles. Eventually, it expanded to the metaphor of light. In The Illuminated, the men are named after the sun. Why do our lives revolve around the sun? I was interested in questioning the accepted hierarchy of the solar system”.
Ghose has reinvented the sentiment of sisterhood to create Meenakshi- a state where women are in charge vis-à-vis the fundamentalist organisation MSS (Mahalaxmi Seva Sangh) that is “determined to put women in their place”.
The author, a former journalist, has embedded in the book MSS posters headlined “dangers of women living alone”, “recommended jobs for widows”, and the “Health problems of Impure Children (born of mixed religion and inter caste marriage)”.
As Shashi and Tara undertake their journeys, MSS’ instructions on what women should eat and wear, create a not too far-fetched picture of a world that might await women living today in India.
“I thought posters were a good way to convey the growth of a vigilante organization like the MSS. The poster design also conveys a progression in their ideas. With cannily timed tax raids on media houses and journalists being arrested for sedition, perhaps fiction is now the place to tell truths,” Ghose said.
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”The spaces that women occupy are of interest to me. I feel there is more connecting women to each other than dividing us. The vantage of privilege might change, but we are in this together”, she explained.
“There cannot be an ideal world for women without an ideal world for everyone. Because all forms of oppression are linked,” Ghose said.
(With inputs from PTI)