Women are exquisite creatures, be they in any shape, size and form. They have the capacity to enthral, to sadden, to make one euphoric.. In short, to make one feel all the emotions that can possibly exist. Khushwant Singh probably realised this and made women his muse. This book showcases this very quality and aspect of his life.
‘On Women’ by Khushwant Singh is a collection of various short stories and excerpts from other books. It also includes the women in Singh’s life and his interactions with them. Through the medium of these stories, the various lights through Singh portrays women in are highlighted. The book has 16 stories. My favourite stories from this book were: Phoolan Devi, Portrait of a Lady, Ghayoorunnisa Hafeez , Indira Gandhi and Mother Teresa.
Phoolan Devi highlights the life and exploits of the dacoit Phoolan Devi. It explores the story that led her to become what she is. It also, implicitly showcases the group politics that occur in her group. Though this story, he attempts to recreate her past and show what led her to be in Behmai on 14th February, 1981 and massacre the people she did.
‘Portrait of a Lady’ is a poignant piece by Singh on his grandmother. The story shows the changing relationship between him and his grandmother as contexts and surroundings change. It is an elegant story, that brings out much of their relationship and his grandmother’s character. Ghayoorunnisa Hafeez was Singh’s younger sister’s friend. This story is important because Ghayoor was a key reason for the shift in Singh’s outlook towards Muslims. Their fast friendship enabled Singh to see that two people from different communities could in fact fall in love and live happily.
Indira Gandhi is a wonderful recount of Singh’s interactions with Gandhi and his perceptions about her. He is brutally honest when he says he part admired her and part detested her. He gives a very balanced and nuanced picture of Gandhi, portraying her in her good and her bad. Ultimately, he ends up conjuring the image of woman who was extremely powerful, but yet which her own flaws that made her even more endearing.
In the piece about Mother Teresa, Singh recalls the three days he spent with her in Calcutta. In three days, Singh saw the beauty of a woman so divine and simple. This image of Mother Teresa stayed on with him for the years to come.
This book showcases the trysts of Singh with women. It is an enlightening read, and women are portrayed in various lights. The best part of the book is Singh’s personal anecdotes with various women as they truly highlight the esteem he holds women in. He praises them like they were goddesses, be it in a manner of power, divinity, sexuality or beauty. He looks at each woman individually and highlights her characteristics, making her seem like a divine being. The book is extremely good to understand Singh’s take on women.
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