- Paperback: 448 pages
- Publisher: Penguin Books Limited; Latest edition (27 July 2016)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0143424696
- ISBN-13: 978-0143424697
- Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 2.9 x 15.9 cm
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #52,175 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Hangwoman Paperback – 27 Jul 2016
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About the Author
K.R. Meera is a multi-award-winning writer and journalist. She has published short stories, novels and essays and has won some of the most prestigious literary prizes including the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award, the Vayalar Award and the Odakkuzhal Award. Most recently, she won the Kendra Sahitya Akademi Award for Aarachar, widely hailed as a contemporary classic and published by Penguin Books India as Hangwoman. She lives in Kottayam with her husband Dileep and daughter Shruthi.
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Top customer reviews
But you all enjoy it . It is quite better than Author's another work 'Yellow is the color of longing' .
Hangwoman is an immense, intense, coiled rope of a novel. Set in Chitpur, Kolkata, it brushes against the burning ghat of Nimtala by the Ganga, and bristles and hisses with the sights, sounds and stench of death around every corner. Indeed, death is the daily lifeline in this urban underbelly: it is only when their streets bustle with hearses, and corpses blaze brightly on pyres, that business is brisk for a family of hereditary hangmen, now sellers of tea to the bereaved.
At the heart of Hangwoman is Chetna, the 22-year-old daughter of 88-year-old Phanibhushan Grddha Mullick, self-professed veteran of 451 hangings. A compulsive knotter of “small but perfect” nooses at the ends of her frayed old dupatta, Chetna is a ‘natural’ who has inherited the bulging eyes that gave the Mullicks the sobriquet of Grddha (Bengali for vulture), along with the other inescapable yoke of their pedigree. (“Even infants born in our family could tie a perfect noose. It is the very first thing we Grddha Mullicks learn to do with our hands.”) The family may have fallen on bad times, with no executions to fall back on after 1990, but Chetna’s grandmother, her Thakuma Bhuvaneswari Devi, continues to hold on to perceptions of bygone glory (mirrored in a solitary gold coin left over from a purse gifted by a raja of Gwalior) and dins it into her granddaughter that it is the Grddha Mullicks’ karma to kill, and kill they will and must, “for the sake of justice”.
Looped at one end of this narrative is swashbuckling TV journalist Sanjeev Kumar Mitra, eagle of eye, glib of tongue and, not least, light of finger. When reports of an imminent hanging break out, mediapersons descend at the Grddha Mullicks’ doorstep for sound bites from old Phanibhushanda. (The subtitle Everybody Loves a Good Hanging is such an ironic masterstroke.) While the latter tries to play his cards close to his chest, Sanjeev Kumar elbows his way up front with his brainwave of a government job for Chetna as her father’s assistant. (But not before he coolly pockets Thakuma’s precious keepsake-coin from right under their noses!) In one fell swoop, Chetna Grddha Mullick finds herself pitchforked into media fame as the world’s first ever woman executioner — “… TV cameras and mikes stretched towards me. I faced them like a terrorist hemmed in by gun-toting commandos”. What’s more, she goes on to bowl her newfound captive audience over with her astute, precise responses.
And thus the dynamics of death by hanging, sold in exclusive primetime slots, makes overnight celebrities of father and daughter—“Is she an ordinary woman now? It’s the first time in the whole world that a woman has been appointed executioner. She is a symbol of strength and self-respect to the whole world now… don’t forget that”— with TRP ratings spiralling up like never before.
The plot of Hangwoman, at once utterly plausible and sardonic, unspools in 52 chapters, layered thick with fabulous myths and minutiae about hangmen and their rituals, milestones of medieval and modern history and all the rough-and-tumble of daily life in Kolkata. The noose is a dark, looming metaphor throughout, perfectly looped, flawlessly pulled. Even as Chetna strains at the leash of a squalid life within the four walls of a one-room tenement shared with half-a-dozen family members, love, that “hangman’s rope with two nooses”, also comes calling and quietly, artfully, lashes together two unlikely victims.
There are chillingly clear-eyed vignettes, such as this one of Chetna’s first encounter with the tool of her new vocation:
I stepped into the room on trembling feet. The awful scent of the air trapped in the room assailed me. I too sneezed four or five times. Father paid no attention; he opened the lid of the box. My hair stood on end. Inside the box, ropes that were a century old lay coiled, like enormous black cobras preparing to lay eggs. ‘This will do, Sibdev babu … do you know what this is? It is the one with which we hung two fellows together … the best stuff…’
Then there are moments of razor-sharp dark humour, especially when you least expect them—such as when, close on the heels of the media circus, “three well-dressed, well-groomed, sweet-smelling pretty women” from a “women’s organisation” rush in, eager to assure Chetna of their support in the fight for equal opportunities for women and men to pull the lever at the gallows. Why should hangmen have all the fun, indeed?
For all its complex twists and turns, the true genius of Hangwoman lies in its dénouement and the swift insouciance with which KR Meera (and J Devika!) conspire to pull the lever on the reader on the very last page. If anything, it proves that with all translations, there hangs a textured twice-born tale, and so the credit for its clear flow of text, nuanced turn of phrase and even the occasional clunkiness of utterance deserves to be shared by both author and translator alike. And if Aarachar, the original, was—plot, stock and barrel—“Malayalam’s ultimate gift of love to Bengal,” as its translator J Devika puts it, its English translation Hangwoman is no less a bonus for showing us, its non-Malayali, non-Bengali readership, the dazzling interstices of herstory, instantly recognisable across time and space.