Book Review : Bhaunri

Synopsis:

Can too much love be a dangerous thing? Bhaunri is married, as is the custom in her tribe of nomadic blacksmiths, when she is still a child. When she is finally sent away to her husband’s home as a young woman, she finds herself drawn deeply and powerfully towards the gruff and handsome Bheema. Bheema, however, is far from the ideal husband, and when he strays one time too many, Bhaunri’s love for him begins to fester and grow into something dark and fearsome. This is a story of obsessive love and the destructive power of desire. Half real and half fable, and redolent with the songs and myths, the beauty and mystery of Rajasthan, Anukrti Upadhyays Bhaunri announces the arrival of a powerful new literary talent.

Review: The first thing I noticed when I picked up Anukrti Upadhyay’s book, Bhaunri, is the design of the book’s title on the cover. Information inside told me that the typeface was designed with Gond tribal tattoo artists, which, in a way, is apt for this book. The characters, the protagonist of this book and the setting of the story are all steeped in the rural, the nomadic, and the age-old beliefs and customs.

The second thing that I noticed was the rich language. There is barely anything flashy or an attempt at sounding highbrow when the plot doesn’t demand it, and yet, from the characters to their attire, from their feelings to their way of life, everything is narrated in fine detail. Instances of folk songs and the typically-rural way of using sarcasm and metaphors to make a point are, to my great joy, interspersed throughout the book. The characters are grounded in reality, while also, as is suitable for a rural story, deriving from tales of their ancestors. The small size of the book — which is also a notable thing in itself, coming in at 140 pages — serves to amplify this sense of a quick plot that’s backed up by a wonderful, fable-like narrative.

The third thing that I noticed was the feminist voice of the protagonist. No year or timeline is specified in the book. It could be set anywhere from 1860s-1970s, it’d seem, with terms like daroga and modes of travel like the bullock cart littered across the book. On top of that, Bhaunri is only a sixteen year-old when she’s sent to her husband’s home. She has never got in touch with cities or read about the idea of the equality of sexes. But what she has is a mother who took tough decisions, stamping her foot where needed so men didn’t decide her fate, and Bhaunri’s moulded with the same cast. So when, as the book blurb mentions, her husband strays once too often, she decides to take matters in her own hands.

It doesn’t scare her that her husband is a wrestler whom no one in ten villages can beat. It doesn’t scare her that society, including her kind and compassionate mother-in-law, called Mai in the book, expects her to shut up and bear the pain, because “that’s the lot of a woman.” It doesn’t scare her that her father-in-law is a womaniser too. In fact, it is her interactions with him that make it clear for Bheema’s family that this isn’t a girl who’ll take blows lying down. The quirky thing is, the climax will, and should, invoke different reactions from different readers.

The fourth thing I noticed was the rich connect with rural life. This draws from the second point above. I’m sure people who have/haven’t connected with village life ever would find it pleasantly surprising. For me, it was deeply soothing to read about a meal of thick bajra rotis covered with ghee, crushed jaggery, paste of coriander leaves and green chillies. Nothing grounds a story in its time and place like the cuisine.

The fifth thing was the repeated reference to love, and what it means for Bhaunri. It doesn’t get clichéd though, with the author succeeding in juxtaposing Bhaunri’s definition of love with the things she comes across in her husband’s home.The destructive power of desire is referenced throughout the book, through tales of ancestors who crossed fire for their love, and the terrors wreaked by those desires. An ominous sense of foreboding stayed through the book, until the climax which I saw coming at least a few pages hence. Despite that, the book, when it ended, made me hold my breath in. It took an exhalation of breath to come to terms with where it ended.

To conclude, this is a fabulous little novel that will lure you in with it’s features, arrest your attention until you’re transfixed, and wow you with the glory of its prose.

Verdict: Anukrti Upadhyay’s Bhaunri is a highly recommended read for its masterful prose and deeply feminist voice.

Genre: Drama, Romance, Fiction.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Reviewed as part of the Blogchatter Book Review Program. Click here to know all about it.

You can order this book via Amazon by clicking here and on Flipkart here.

Have thoughts on this book review? Please share them in the comments section.

Thanks for reading.

9 Comments

      1. When you are reviewing someting, you definitely are but that’s what at least I like about your reviews. That you can be counted on to call a spade a spade. At 142 I could indeed finish it in 2 days. Lets see 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

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