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Book cover of the bandid queens by parini shroff

The Bandit Queens

Revenge is a Dish Best Served with Pong-Pong: A review of The Bandit Queens  

I want to write a gushing review about Bandit Queens that’s a few pages longer than my word limit allows. Whenever I fall in love with a book, there is a falsely intellectual muscle contracting within me, telling me that if I get sucked in, then I don’t “get it.” Especially when the prose flows easily, without pretense. Screw that. I loved this book.

Parini Shroff’s debut tale of feminist revenge is a wild ride of a story that takes place in relatively small, geographical space – a village and the surrounding areas that are trussed up by practices which probably existed for as long as The Ramayana has provided textual evidence that women must aspire to Sita levels of self-sacrifice.

Five years ago, Geeta’s husband disappeared, literally. She woke up one morning to find him gone. But, the rumour in the village is that she made him disappear. It was no secret, her bruises, her broken fingers, though everyone claims they would have stopped it, if only they had known. But Geeta’s resulting pariah status serves her well until Farah, from her microloan group, asks for help to ‘remove her nose ring’ aka, make her a widow. No big deal, she did the same thing to Ramesh, right? However, the subsequent slippery slope puts Geeta at risk of losing everything she has worked for.

Geeta’s idol is Phoolan Devi, the real-life Bandit Queen who famously took revenge on the men who raped and abused her. Just as in Phoolan’s day, domestic and sexual abuse, caste discrimination, and rampant corruption lay the groundwork for a male-dominated society where women’s bodies continue to be the main repository for the worst things that can be inflicted upon them – under the guises of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition.’ Despite their suffering, none of the women are written as monochromatic victims, worthy only of pity.

This book is so refreshing. The characters speak normally – albeit with a lot of sarcasm and zingy comebacks – and there isn’t a trace of hyper-Orientalist fetishisation, despite the book’s the setting. There are social events to look forward to, illicit booze, a lot of CID references (think of a popular police crime show where you’re from – that’s CID), and friends with benefits. South Asian literature can exist without it monsooning spiced mangoes and chai on every other hennaed page.

In spite of so much abuse and trauma, this book is hilarious. Parini Shroff’s talent shines through in her prose, which never feels crass or like gratuitous violence meant to seem artsy. She has a deft hand when it comes to wreathing in humour amongst the harrowing.

That said, the abusers and misogynists ruling village life are written with chilling accuracy, down to the manipulative language they employ. As engrossed as I was in the story, there were a few times when I had to put it down for a moment. This book can be triggering.

Personally, I loathe stories where the oppressed must ascend to the holy heights of forgiveness, i.e. ‘turn the other cheek.’ So, if you like a story about freeing abused dogs, samosas poisoned with mosquito coils, and greetings like, ‘Namaskar, goat fucker’ with barely intact polite tones, then this book is definitely for you.

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