TRUE to its title, Woman: Many Hues Many Shades is quit a concoction. Not only in terms of content that includes articles, short stories, poems and even quotes, but also quality that varies like quicksilver—now enchanting, now perceptive, now engaging and now predictable. The book includes many a celebrated names like Rabindranath Tagore. His short story A Wife’s Letter that tells the tale of woman’s suffering and climaxes on her challenging social dictates holds a mirror to women’s inner shakti. Khuswant Singh’s The Portrait of a Lady on his grandmother, which many of you may have read before, is truly poignant, for it is not merely an account of his relationship with his grandmother. Rather it is a reflection of changing times, of urban rural cultural divide, of generation gap and much more.
Expectedly, his piece on the famed painter Amrita Shergill is penned in his characteristic “no-holds-barred” style. So, you get to meet the painter whose paintings today are as famous as her passionate affairs once were. The relationship between him and Amrita certainly wasn’t warm, to put it mildly, and the feisty Sardar, being the inimitable raconteur that he is, narrates one particular incident that portrays her impudent behaviour. On her promiscuity well he doesn’t offer any first-person account but does build up to her (in)famous reputation.
Then there are couple of odes to motherhood. Novoneel Chakraborty’s mother’s extraordinariness lies in her ordinariness in her being the epitome of selflessness and affection as most Indian mothers are. As readers shall read My Mother, they will not only empathise but also be able to see glimpses of their own mother in her portrayal. On the other hand, Roopinder Singh’s A Liberating Journey recounts the achievements of an achiever mother—Inderjit Kaur Sandhu. Now, it could easily have turned into a eulogy to mother dearest. But he manages to draw a fine dividing line between the mother and the woman who forged new paths, went to make inroads into the male fiefdom and occupy high position such as Vice-Chancellor Punjabi University, Patiala, and Chairman Staff Selection Commission et al. Without doubt, here is a son who deeply admires and respects his mother but takes care to list out her singular milestones as these are, without exaggeration or hyperbole. The piece has many an incisive observations that will not only inspire the new generation of women but also guide them the right way. Particularly telling is the comment: “It is not by rebelling that you get your way; it is by handling responsibilities and proving yourself that you pave your way to success.”
Harminder Kaur dovetails her special relationship with her mother in a manner as only a daughter can—insightful, personal and emotional. Touching once more are two short stories with women as key protagonists. However, the stories are not just about women, albeit about human and humane values that triumph because of women perhaps. Mohinder Singh Sarna’s Ek Omkar Satnam without doubt is riveting. Satjit Wadva’s Salima, despite the simplicity of storyline, too, strikes a chord. However, Wadva, who has edited the book, disappoints in her piece The Weaker Sex. In Why Women Tolerate Domestic Violence she makes a pertinent point: “We have come a long way in bringing up our daughters like our sons; we must now start brining our sons like daughters.”
Women’s empowerment and dowry are other issues that the volume divided into two parts touches upon. Besides, it is interspersed with poems by William Wordsworth and Sam Levinson. Taslima Nasreen’s poem Live Woman; Live is expectedly both inspirational and hard-hitting, simultaneously taking men to task and asking women to live. However, the logic of including certain titbits, which have been doing the rounds on the email circuit, is kind of inexplicable. More so since book includes significant writers like Patwant Singh who while reminding how women are treated as equals in the Sikh faith laments the practice of killing unborn daughters that has become rampant in Punjab.
Indeed, the endeavour behind the book—to provide a fresh perspective into women in the backdrop of the abominable practice of female foeticide—is meaningful. However, the book doesn’t always succeed in this goal. Despite glitches, the book is an easy read and provides more than one take on women and even dares to laugh at their silly foibles and quirky temperaments. All in all, this is a potpourri that sails in many boats at one go.