An Unrestored Woman and Other Stories

Written by Shobha Rao
Review by Cathy Kemp

This was the first time I have encountered stories relating to the period of the Partition between India and Pakistan in 1947, and what a revelation it was! These events were not included on my school history curriculum, and it doesn’t appear to have been highlighted as a major historical event to those of us in this part of the world. Therefore, the changes wrought and the difficulties encountered during this time were an unknown element. Rao spans the various classes affected by Partition in the stories within this volume, and she reveals a very different aspect of the effects of re-drawing the boundaries. The stories are engaging as stand-alone tales but are made so much more revealing when the accompanying couplet shows the interpretation from another character’s view. From the pre-arranged marriages to men of another religion to their own, the subsequent rejection by their own family and their in-laws when the segregation came into force, to the refugee camps and the acknowledgement of their statelessness – some of the women’s lives were wholly unrecognisable. There is slavery and prostitution, infanticide, unrequited love resulting in a deceitful murder, all woven into what appear at the outset to be quiet lives.

Shobha Rao has an aptitude to engaging the reader with charm whilst delivering an almighty punch when least expected. The storylines are quite disparate, though continuing to follow the main thread of the changes being undertaken to highlight the impact of this time in history. This collection has whetted my interest in this neglected period.