Every One Loves a Good Hanging

A Review of the book “Hang woman” written by K R Meera

Hangwoman is a fictional story of a young woman who is appointed as India’s first female executioner. Hangwoman was originally written in Malayalam by K R Meera titled,”Aarachaar” was later brilliantly translated by J. Devika in English. The story is moulded in the backdrop of Kolkata which depicts the life of twenty two years old Chetana Grdhha Mullick from a poverty stricken Bengali family who proudly traces back their lineage from several centuries before Christ.

The novel begins with the rejection of the mercy petition sent by Jatindernath Banerjee to stay his death sentence. Chetana’s father Phanibhushan Grdhha Mullick, the 88 year old hangman who has already sent 451 people to death is the one who will be Jatindernath Banerjee’s executioner. However he demands that his daughter, Chetana be given a government job if he has to carry out the execution. Sanjeev Kumar Mitra, the anchor of CNC channel takes it upon himself as a media stunt to advocate the cause of Chetana as Phanibhushan Grdhha Mullick’s successor. Chetana was smitten by Sanjeev Kumar Mitra who plants the seeds of bargaining in Phanibhushan’s head. Later he proposes marriage to her to buy her and her father’s loyalty. And Chetana is stricken not knowing if she loves or hates him. Chetana is drawn to the ruthlessly manipulative TV journalist, Sanjeev Kumar Mitra. “He was an exceptionally gifted robber — not only of Thakuma’s gold coin, but also of people’s hearts.” Chetana “felt as helpless as a bird trapped in the hollow of a burning tree… able neither to fly nor burst into flames… We became two nesting birds in a tree that swam in the air. I fought with myself to put out the fire in my wings.”

Chetana is hailed as a symbol of women empowerment but in reality she just becomes a tool in the hands of men around her. She is hurled in to the whirlpool of media where she questions her ability of hanging a condemned man. In an ironic twist of fate, Chetana remains the only person who can conduct an impending hanging. She breaks free from the shadow of an imperious father and exploitative lover and puts up a stellar performance. Though she is hurt by the series of tragedies that hit her family she finally perfectly executes her maiden execution.

The story travels through the magical history of the Grdhha Mullick family whose lineage can be traced back to 400 years before Christ and the bleakness of their contemporary lives. The Grdhha Mullick family, the family of executioners witnesses almost every event that has shaped the history of India and that was narrated well in the novel. Chetana’s Thakuma, ramu da, Sukhdev kaku, Sanjeev Kumar Mitra’s mother Trailokya Devi and veteran journalist Mano Da come across as plot devices rather than individual characters. The history of Grdhha Mullick family is presented with suspense and in a traditional way whilst the contemporary events are presented in a non-traditional and strong manner. In the end Chetana Grdhha Mullick evolves as a role model representing the pride and dignity of all women.

No doubt the book is a complex read, which will not leave the reader without completing it. The novel includes a magical sweep of past and present, life and death, love and sacrifice, crime and justice, fate and heritage, the influence of the past on the contemporary events, conflicting faces of a woman-man relationship and of vengeance splendidly narrated. K R Meera did a splendid way of mixing the past and present and finely weaving it into a story of love, loss and vengeance. One could experience a sheer energy that drives the story forward. A magical realism has been spread out in the novel when it comes to Bengal, its history and lives. It becomes evident when one come to know that K R Meera is neither a Bengali nor lived in Bengal. The novel is a must read one.

Reviewed by Ms Rakha Rajan

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