Translated from Malayalam, ‘Hangwoman’ is a gripping narrative about a young woman with the distinction of being India’s first woman executioner. Monideepa Sahu reviews the novel.
This striking novel includes within its majestic sweep the enigmas of the human condition. Life and death; crime and justice; the continued influence of the past in present-day events; of fate and heritage, and the individual’s capability to rise above circumstances and make one’s unique impact; the conflicting facets of man-woman relationships; the author examines all this and more in the course of a fascinating narrative.
Twenty-two-year-old Chetna Grddha Mullick is the youngest member of India’s first family of hangmen, who proudly trace their lineage from several centuries before Christ. We share Chetna’s journey from being the hangman’s daughter to becoming the first hangwoman and a role-model representing the pride and dignity of all women.
Chetna grows up in Kolkata in a poverty-stricken family. Living next to one of Kolkata’s most prominent cremation ghats, Chetna is surrounded by the continuous parade of life and death. Tea shops, barbers, mourners, pushcarts, horsecarts, beggars and sacrificial animals bleating before the slaughter create a din louder than the circular trains. “The mingled scents of sweetmeats cooking in ghee and sunflower oil, and corpses burning on pyres enveloped us.” The author deftly brings to life the chaos and sheer vitality of Kolkata.