Riot Widows by Shashi Tharoor

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Shashi Tharoor
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Book review

Ravaged by successive riots, the terms of life in a shantytown are dictated by its women who lead a widowed existence since their men are locked up in prison on murder charges. In the despondency and squalor of the dingy lanes, Nafsan is hope, the idea of another day.

She radically departs from the rebel-woman stereotype in her dare to aim high without rejecting the reality of her circumstances. The beautiful medical student with the ambition to earn greater recognition and respectability, however, is ruggedly loyal to the festering slum where she belongs.

The defiant girl leads protests against the big-business move to encroach on the slum and rebuffs religious extremism, but bares her vulnerable streak on the question of her personal choices.

Nafsan is every woman – she makes mistakes, succumbs to pressure, gives in before adversity. And yet, she pursues an idyll that gives one’s life a meaning success cannot adequately measure.

The account of her life encompasses the communal divide with her discovery that she could speak as much for Hindus as Muslims. Nafsan’s journey acquires epic proportions with the celebration of life’s ordinariness and exploration of the dark crevices of the human mind. Every woman in the slum is an inveterate fighter with an amazing story to tell. Will Nafsan, too, win her war?


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