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September 26, 2014

Book Review: Hangwoman

Text by Nittal Chandarana

An offbeat book, an offbeat profession, an offbeat climax. Verve reviews Hangwoman

The Read: Hangwoman
Author: K.R. Meera
Translation: J. Devika 
Publisher: Penguin Books

Unravelling: Chetna, the hangman’s daughter inherits his job by a twist of fate. The only hangwoman in the country, her status is elevated as her life is turned into a prime-time news hour slot by Sanjeev Kumar Mitra, the man she grows to love. Entwined richly in history, the book keeps going back to the life and times of the Grddha Mullicks, this line of hangmen, and the pride with which they practice their profession. Chetna’s dilemmas and the constant tug-of-war she faces between trying to keep her head straight or be carried away by Sanjeev Mitra stand out.

Her and him: The protagonist, Chetna, effortlessly steals the limelight being the independent, free-thinking woman that she is. She makes her own decisions, does not shy away from doing what’s right and refuses to buckle under male dominance. Our kind of woman! However, her father, Phani da is quite an enigmatic character. Fiercely proud of his lineage, he’s always up for a challenge, all guns blazing. He’s got the gift of gab and understands that the prestige he gets is equaltimes for that as much as the hundreds of people he has hanged.

Maybe not: History, we love. But excessive historic references constantly meandering away from the major narrative made us not quite so happy.

Caught our eye: All the references to hanging and nooses generously sprawled across the book greatly add to the narrative.
‘The truth was that from the time I was in my mother’s womb, I was already tied up in the umbilical cord. My mother’s belly had to be cut open so I could be taken out. Thakuma bragged that the noose I’d tied even as a foetus was a faultless one.’
And herein lies the crux of the novel. This one line single-handedly reflects the pride of the hangmen’s family and the fact that nooses and knots are akin to basic reflexes for them.

Finally: Read it because it’s so offbeat. We didn’t really enjoy the intermingling of this news hour/reality show with the focal drama of the hanging but the description of the gallows and the final process of the job more than make up for it.

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