Having known Tanvi since many years, I knew what to expect from her debut collection of stories. I was looking to be exposed to the angst of women caught in a patriarchal society and the catharsis that comes from their fighting against it. I wasn't disappointed. The stories have all this and more.
Before I go into the details, I would like to reminisce on a movie review that I had read a long time ago in the newspaper. The movie was a Anil Kapoor-Aishwarya Rai starrer called 'Hamara Dil Aaapke Paas Hai' where Aishwarya is hounded by society, for being a rape victim hoping to marry the man she loves. The review pointed out that the main issue with the storyline is the suggestion that a woman needs a man to fight and speak out for her. Trying to get away from the clutches of an abuser (a rapist, in the movie) does not require the hero to give a long gyaan session to 'convince' the world what a woman needs in her life. Aishwarya Rai's character lacked a voice. How I agreed!
It is pointless to talk of empowerment if the equation still places the man with the 'power' to be the sole messiah of change. This was in the year 2000.
Cut to 2020. I watched the film 'Shakuntala Devi' on the day of its release. Shakuntala Devi was traumatized for life by her sister's death, but the underlying trauma is her mother's lack of voice - she never stood up for herself against her husband, not even for her daughter's life!
Why did I digress into all this? Because I wanted to point out that all of Tanvi's women in her book speak out for themselves. And this is the main take-away for women, in the book. What can the men learn? Empathy and realization. The reader waits for the climax of each story wherein the woman either spills her guts out or finds her own peace amidst chaos. And herein lies the purgatory parts for readers.
Don't expect sugar-coated versions of reality in the stories. Readers will identify with one or more characters, situations or occurrences. There cannot be a single Indian who has not encountered a similar situation, heard a similar line, spoken a similar dialogue in the book, irrespective of their gender or age. That's where the stories score over many others. They are highly relatable, especially to most working women in our society. The tales capture the pulsing nuances of marriage in modern India, rooted in patriarchal entities. And they point out that the phenomenon is prevelent across all classes and all age groups of society. This is a good piece of feminist literature that captures the complications of relationships, caught in the web of skewed patriarchal notions.
Tanvi's narrative style is simple and to the point. Short sentences, smooth flow and uncomplicated language makes it an easy read. The only complications arise in the stories themselves, which gives readers ample food for thought and perhaps, scope to inculcate positive change in their own lives, if required.
My first reaction on WhatsApp after reading her book was,
"They are so disturbing. Feel like tearing my hair out."
"Oh," she replied.
"I mean the stories...the frustration of the lives of the women depicted...want to slap some characters."
And then she realized that I meant the characters, not the book. As a reader, I had felt precisely what she wanted readers to feel.
"Yes, exactly," she asserted.
The only grouse is that I wanted the stories to be longer. There could have been more elaborations in them, especially towards the end of some stories. There is a slight sense of abruptness and the reader feels rushed to the end, rather than moving in sync with the multitude of events in the character's life. However, some of them close perfectly with just the right cathartic effect. My personal favourite is 'Scarred'. 'Antithesis' is another highly relatable tale that all mothers should read.
Overall, 'Dance To My Tunes' is a highly readable experience. I rate it 4.5/5.
Did you enjoy my review? Do let me know in the comments.
Happy reading, stay safe, readers.