Book Title: The Bandit Queens
Author: Parini Shroff
Publisher: HarperCollins India
Number of Pages: 352
Date Published: Apr. 10, 2023
Price: INR 316
Parini Shroff addresses the hard realities experienced by women in rural India in her debut book, “The Bandit Queens,” including poverty, famine, alcoholism, marital violence, sexual assault, and the repressive caste system. While these subjects might initially appear depressing, Shroff deftly turns them into a strikingly uplifting story that centers on a group of strong women who take matters into their own hands by killing their violent spouses.
The novel’s protagonist is Geeta, a young widow in her thirties who lives in a tiny town close to Kohra in northeastern India. She has a fake reputation for killing her husband Ramesh five years ago, which has made her an outcast. Geeta loves her freedom despite the loneliness that comes with her popularity. She only finds friendships with female business owners participating in a microloan programme. Farah, one of Geeta’s business partners, has issues paying back her loan balance.
Her husband assaults Farah and their kids when inebriated after misusing the money to purchase booze. Farah approaches Geeta, aware of her notoriety, asking for help in making her husband vanish, as Geeta is rumored to have done with Ramesh. Geeta, who at first hesitates, is motivated by the historical character Phoolan Devi, commonly known as the Bandit Queen, and decides to assist Farah in getting back at her abusive husband while asserting her independence.
What follows is a go-into-detail and complex chain of events that exceed Geeta’s expectations and intentions, with far-reaching ramifications. Parini Shroff’s enthralling debut novel weaves romance, violence, and a remarkable rescue dog into a charming and well-crafted tale. Shroff expertly exposes readers to the complex social dynamics of Geeta’s environment, where religion, caste, and gender politics intertwine, gaining relevance as the novel progresses. Geeta gradually realizes her shallow infatuation for Phoolan Devi and admits her failure to appreciate the blessings she still has despite being a poor and ostracised widow.
“The Bandit Queens” defies easy classification, combining elements of mystery and suspense with dark comedy that delicately addresses gender issues. For example, when Geeta and her co-conspirators feel the police are closing in on them, they are unexpectedly spared, thanks to the male senior officer’s reluctance to appreciate his female colleague’s better policing abilities. Throughout the story, Geeta’s acquaintances, all moms, humorously proclaim the joys of parenthood, despite evidence to the contrary.
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Instead of attempting to pigeonhole the book into a particular genre, readers are urged to fully engage in the narrative and accompany Geeta and her companions on their unforeseen odyssey, ready to embrace whatever path it unveils.
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