When you usually look at a book you turn to its backcover to give you some clue as to what it is all about. Antara Banarjee’s “Goddess in Flesh“ had us looking at its front cover for several minutes – those kohl smudged eyes were haunting and making an explicit point just as the book did.
The writer is an accomplished photographer and she puts this skill into practice, instead of writing long, tedious driven out descriptions she believes in capturing eerie pictures. Instead of dropping subtle hints of symbolism she asks distressing questions. She chooses to explore questions like – Why do men who easily claim women to be the weaker sex yet purge faults on the same weaker sex?
The title is apt to explain the ‘good woman’ notion in Indian society. Apparently, in an archaic and patriarchal society everything is subject to manipulation and convenient modification The good woman or ‘goddess’ or the painted picture of sanctity and worthy of worship by misogynist men in the centuries gone by, are now standards to ordinary women to follow.
This novel focuses on lives of three women Vama, Vikata and Shodashi and their journey from meek and submissive to untamed and wild. Vama whose only identity is in the reflection of her sister is snatched away to be gruesomely sacrificed on altar where her expense is the expectancy of a baby boy. Vama‘s life revolves around the revenge of her sister but will she be able to avenge her? Vikata, an outcast experiences the most disturbing dances of corpse eating aghoris and the liberated “Ma” whose actions baffle and create an impressionable image when seen from the eyes of a child. Her destiny unfolds when she is proclaimed a witch. Shodashi a woman in the flesh business whose need to feed her family gives birth to her work, but is she allowed to love and be loved like an ordinary woman ought to be?
Halfway through the novel, you begin to understand that the war against sexism could be won if only women support their kind – like how constantly Vama was supported by Mantagini and Vikata by Ma Bhairavi. The novel underlines the extremes and bounds a woman crosses for the aching need of love. It is only when you finally understand the parallel drawn between a mother and cow, both of which are giving and selfless in nature, you lament on reading about the women giving and sacrificing their needs for unrequited respect and pretence of love. The episodic narration keeps you hooked to the book. The romantic episodes have erotic overtones to it and expresses a woman’s sexual desires in a liberating way.
This book should not even be touched if you are looking for a light, laugh it out or easy read because once you begin it’s hard to put down.. You start empathizing for the characters in the former chapters itself. It raises poignant questions which wrench your core inexorably.The only thing that makes it an easy read is the ability of the writer to paint pictures in a vivid and theatrical way.