By Somali K Chakrabarti
Prejudices, biases and gender inequalities have always existed in our society, and from time to time these come to the fore front. But, when such points are raised by foreigners, there is always a risk that the writer may succumb to temptation of stereotypical or caricaturish portrayal of the characters or the culture of a country.
Making Friends with the Crocodile, written by Mick Canning is a book that highlights gender inequalities prevailing in a North Indian village. Steering clear of stereotypes, the book depicts lives of people in a normal village family, and the conditions that not only dissuade a woman from reporting an assault, but also subjugate her further by holding her responsible for it.
Making friends with Crocodiles is available on Amazon.
Here’s a bit about the author. Mick Canning is an Englishman, who has traveled extensively in North India, Nepal and the Middle East. Mick finely captures the essence of these places in words and in pictures in his blog that goes by his name. I have always enjoyed reading his posts on Bodhgaya, Varanasi, Sarnath, and Punjab. While I had been intending to read his book since quite some time, I managed to do so during this weekend.
In his book, Mick has delved into the mind of a middle- aged woman living in rural Bihar (I have no idea how he managed to analyse and portray the sensitivities) and has beautifully sketched the love – hate relationship she shares with her daughter in law.
The book gives the reader a good perspective on the mind-set and predispositions that prevail in the rural north Indian society (and apply at large to other parts as well). The distinct differences in the roles of men and women in the society comes across loud and clear. The description of a middle class household in a village and their daily routine in vivid details surprised me. The manner in which the author connects the social issue with the system and institutions is very authentic and shows his deep understanding of the culture and milieu.
Siddiqa, the protagonist character gets as real as she can be. That’s a pleasant deviation from the woman characters shown in the saas bahu serials on TV, who are either typecast as too docile and are seen shedding glycerin tears without making their mascara run, or are too loud and twitch their heavily glossed lips in a crafty smile each time they score a brownie point in the family politics.
Like any other mother-in-law, Siddiqa finds faults with her daughter-in-law Naira as they go through their mundane routine of completing her household chores. Yet, a part of her sympathizes with Naira when she is assaulted by a known person, and her son blames his wife for the incident, believing that she must have done something to provoke the assault. When the matter gets reported to police and things aggravate further, resulting in injuries to her son and brewing the possibility of outburst of communal tension, her sub-conscious mind holds her daughter-in-law somehow responsible for the trouble that has befallen the family. Her thoughts reflect in the cordial but cold relationship she shares with her daughter-in –law, as opposed to the warm relationship she has with both her young daughters.
Most of the conversations take place over mugs of chai. To me, at places the conversations seemed to be too polite, primarily due to the use of Hello and Thank You a number of times. I, personally thought that use of ‘salaam’ and ‘shukriya’ or at times ‘ammi‘ or ‘abbu‘ may have rendered the urdu touch to the language.
Overall, in an understated and lucid manner, the book presents the lives of people in an average Indian village, as it is, without adding a glossy sheen to it. Go for it, if you like to read serious stuff that deals with real thought provoking issues.
You can check out Making Friends with Crocodiles HERE on Amazon.
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