Written in India and edited in Wolverhampton
Many people will have read Love in a Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez or Nancy Mitford’s Love in a Cold Climate… now here is the 21st century’s answer to both: Love in Suppression.
Or to give it its proper title: Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs.
A 23 year-old Indian woman has made her publishing debut with an incredible love story set in a society where women are degraded and abused daily.
The book – which was edited in Wolverhampton – has entered the Amazon Kindle charts at Number Six – just five days after publication.
Already reviewers have compared it with Khaled Hosseini’s first best-selling novel The Kite Runner.
Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs – Number 6 in the Amazon paid for Kindle chart (14 January 2018)
India, the world’s second most populated country is at the cutting edge of new technology, earning vast material wealth for thousands.
But, anyone who has seen the movie Slumdog Millionaire, will know that under that veneer of prosperity, many within India’s 1.2 billion population live in abject poverty and total squalor.
The abuse of women is part and parcel of that poverty.
The overarching religion, which both promotes and ignores the abuse of women, is Hinduism, practised by a staggering 81% of the population.
Traditional Indian society is defined by social hierarchy.
The Hindu caste system embodies this social stratification to a greater extent than any class system in western society, where those at the bottom are treated worse than livestock.
◆ Saumyata Bish
Now with her first novel Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs, Saumyata Bisht exposes the ongoing power of the caste system, which keeps the poor in poverty while the rich remain all powerful.
Our village was small one with simple rules and entitlement.
It operated only according to one thing: Caste. It was the first thing taken into consideration when associating with anyone in any business of life.
Brahmins were the topmost in the hierarchy, they were renowned for being sharp and witty, traditionally they were pandits in the temples, owners of every religious place, and vanguards of the auspicious occasions… they were considered the highest blood…
…And finally there is the lower caste. They were ostracized from our temples and from our homes. They are always considered squalid and given a treatment worse than dogs.
(Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs)
Saumyata is the daughter of a college principal and since early childhood taught herself English and immersed herself in English literature, slowly observing the suppression and abuse of fellow Indian women.
But, she sees herself as a writer, a poet and a storyteller rather than a campaigner or activist for emancipation.
Yet it is deep indignation at the society in which she was raised, which ignites her storytelling passion.
“Women are still expected to follow a certain path and protect their ‘sacredness’,” she says.
“And while there is appalling poverty in cities like Delhi and Kolkata, the urban masses aren’t the ones that are bearing the brunt of the brutality against women… the rural masses are!
“Most girls are uneducated. They even soak their menstrual blood with rags and dry leaves. And even falling in love with a man from a different caste is considered a sin, for which punishment is severe.”
Although written as a novel – a vehicle to protect the identities of people she knows – Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs is a gripping insight into a world rarely seen in the West.
It is almost Blakean in its style as an innocent young girl is corrupted by men into a world of experience.
The book explored in depth the enforced sanctity of virginity before marriage and then the absolute desolation of a woman’s ‘sacredness’ by rape and violation – often by a husband, uncles and friends of the husband. And women who become untouchable if they fall in love with a man from a lower caste.
My great-grandfather couldn’t fight his family for long because they held all the power and soon he had to accept that it was a mistake to have married her.
So… he burned her hands, cut her hair, crushed her fingers and broke her teeth.
In return, everyday she cried to god Golu, until one day she was burned alive by her husband and mother-in-law.
(Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs)
“Many girls from rural areas are married early,” explains Saumyata.
“Many more are beaten by their husbands and his family. Rapes happen, but are silenced. Only the brutal ones find some light, but most rapes are never even mentioned.
“So I want to speak for the silent, shout for them with my words.
“I just intend to make a tiny contribution into correcting it,” adds Saumyata.
The book was edited, over a five week period, by retired newspaper editor Nic Outterside, in Wolverhampton.
Nic explains how the peculiar business arrangement occurred.
“I first came across Saumyata’s writing within a poetry circle on Instagram about three months ago,” he says.
“Her short poems were stunning in themselves, but when I read two of her longer pieces I was left gasping by their power and beauty.
“And her prose style was so exact and full of amazing description and vocabulary.
“We began exchanging emails and it was only then I discovered that English is actually her second language.
“As a newspaper editor of some 28 years, I was gobsmacked… she writes better English than some award winning journalists I have known!
“She then asked me if I would edit her first book… it was a no brainer and I am delighted with the finished result,” added Nic.
- Gauri: A Sin Between My Legs can be ordered at: https://www.amazon.com/GAURI-SIN-BETWEEN-MY-LEGS-ebook/dp/B078XMK42N