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Sunday, 5 March 2017

Book Review- Alternative Realities by Nighat M. Gandhi

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Feminism and its various aspects have always been a matter of unpleasant debates in society. Women’s freedom, sexuality, equality or education is still not considered worth discussing in our largely patriarchal arrangements. But does that contain the free spirit of womanhood? Hardly. When Nighat Gandhi took on a journey to find out what love means to different women, she barely had any inkling of the discovery she was about to make. Alternative Realities is a strong and profound tale of women finding love in most unimaginable places and their celebration of love and life.
Nighat M. Gandhi was born in erstwhile Bangladesh, raised in Pakistan and married a Hindu from India. In spite of the geographical boundaries and political unpleasantness, Gandhi finds striking similarity across cultures and finds herself at a loss of words when asked about her country because she considers all three of them as her own yet belongs to none of them. The realization that sky has the same blue colour on either of India-Pakistan border is obvious yet palpable. And the life of women in all three countries seems to have striking similarities. Somewhere the timelines seem to have frozen to provide a strange concrete unity to women across borders.

Since her own marriage to a Hindu was strongly opposed by her father, Nighat Gandhi set out to find out how love impacts lives of other Muslim women. Through different characters in this autobiographical account, author discovers that below the superficial social strata of oppressive men-centric notions, there lies a colourful world where women celebrate love and life in their own way. Nisho, the self-proclaimed Rakhi Sawant of Sind or Nahid, the nineteen year old fearless lass from Allahbad who has seen more life than is allowed at this tender age, don’t really have complaints about the life they live. But they want to look towards the brighter side and celebrate the small things that come their way. Effusive and lively Mahmuda, who proudly calls her a war-widow, chose to live with a philanderer husband of second marriage just to keep the unwanted men and questions away. Her claim that real love can last a lifetime seems true when one sees Nusrat and Q happy in their lesbian relationship.

Alternative Realities is thoughtful and honest. Even in the narration of saddest parts of characters’ lives, there is an underlying promise of a better tomorrow. Various aspects of womanhood come alive in Nighat Gandhi’s words depicting the strength and depth of the gender. Love, of course, remains on the horizon. So near yet so far!

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