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Nighat Gandhi’s Waiting is a compilation of short stories, which captures the intrinsic contradictions and ambiguities of life. The collection of 13 stories, constitutes an anthology that lets the reader look into the private lives of women, specifically within the mundane practices and chores of daily life and domesticity. Through a variety of characters, Gandhi delves into the monotony of daily life that is often overlooked as a cause for concern. She uses these different characters to unearth the silenced voices of women, each dealing with a different situation and the inner dialogue that goes into tackling such issues. Through this use of internalised voices, the author creates narratives that shed light on questions such as sex work, menstruation, mental health, sexuality, sexual urges, loneliness and many more, interspersed and viewed through the understanding of religion, gender, caste and class.

Waiting (2019)

Author: Nighat Gandhi
Publisher: Zubaan
Genre: Fiction

Stories like Shaming, Shaving, and Sunday Morning examine the relationship between women’s rituals and their negotiations within daily lives with traditions and rituals that are dictated by religion. In this context, the former is structured in two parts, wherein the first part is a reflection on a young Muslim girl’s ordeal in trying to deal with aspects of purity and puberty related to menstrual health, and the associated taboo of discussing the same with anyone. The second part of the story is an insight into the same girl’s internal conflicts, now as a post-menopausal woman.

This story brings to light the encounters between class, religion and gender, and the innate clashes that women face through these experiences.

The narrative analyses the role-reversal in a mother-daughter relationship, as the first part is in the voice of the young girl as she traverses the rituals set up by the mother and her internal struggle with understanding the reasoning behind these. The second part, explains how even as an older woman, now responsible for the well being of her mother, the same character is still dealing with the same problem, although now with a scornful view rather than confused one. On the other hand, Sunday Morning analyses how the ritual of fasting during Ramadan is in conflict with the pangs of hunger of young girls from a lower economic class, who do not have access to food. This story brings to light the encounters between class, religion and gender, and the innate clashes that women face through these experiences.

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Lingerie, Aab-e-Hayaat and A Stich in Time focus on the lives of married women, who are unhappy in their respective situations. The first story is a reflection of the results of post-partum depression and the consequential distancing from their families. Aab-e-Haayat, explores the solitude of a woman tied up in the monotony of domestic work and isolation from the public sphere, to the extent where she considers taking her life. It throws light on the relationship between a mother and a daughter and the importance of a dialogue between different members of the family. In a similar vein, A Stich in Time tells two parallel stories of women in based in the USA and the conciliations and adjustments they make within their new families.

Panjpir Chowk is the story about a lesbian couple in Peshawar, and an opportunity that gives them a chance to spend an uninterrupted day together because of Osama Bin Laden’s assassination. In Goodies a woman who is divorced twice, agrees to a marry a man, who she has spoken to only virtually, only to discover his authoritarian disposition in simple aspects of her life.

It throws light on the relationship between a mother and a daughter and the importance of a dialogue between different members of the family.

Sharmaji’s Shoes is the only story from the point of view of a man, but it leads to the understanding of women’s roles in the family and the significance of this comradery between partners in a marriage. The stories Ladies Waiting Room and Kick the Duniya, are instances of women of the upper class, recognising and using their positionality to either uplift their positions, albeit defensively, or downplay their class identity to conceal their privilege.

Through these different stories, based not only in different locations, but also from different positions of women with respect to class, religion and caste, Waiting navigates through a diversity of everyday issues, that are contextualised within each situation. Through the use of internal dialogues and self-reflexivity, the author manages to capture the unheard voices of women in conflict, albeit with a vague sense of false assurance.

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The stories allow for an understanding of the internal dilemmas that go into tackling ideologies that are tabooed, and in the process discovering the “self” as an overpowering identity. Through this process, the reader is made to realise how despite this attempt to address conflicts, the voices of the women are, in some form, still repressed. This dialogue is thus in the form of questions, or subtle forms of rebellion, which merely remains inside the head, as they wait inertly, for external transformations, to change their situation. The themes within the stories, which explore seemingly simplistic elements like neighbours, children, and families, have the potential of creating extraordinary narratives, through the discovery of the “self”. This format of internal dialogues has led to the creation of stories with a free-flowing, almost non-linear structure, however, the resultant narrative is but a shadow of the meaning behind its telling.


Featured Image Source: Zubaan Books

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