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Tanuja Chandra's anthology Bijnis Woman seeks to preserve essence of oral storytelling tradition

A primal sense of gaiety finds me in its grip, each time I hear the non-gendered cry of "I've got some major G" (‘gossip’). I’d like to believe that this isn’t merely a justification for my appetite for scandal, and that ‘gossip’ does colour our lives through the delectable narration of a plethora of stories. These stories bring to the fore tales of giddy romances and spurned aashiqs, of menacing machismo and the resilience of the ‘ordinary’. These tales allow us to traverse through worlds not our own, and familiarise ourselves with them.

It is precisely this sense you get, from filmmaker and writer Tanuja Chandra’s debut book — an anthology of short stories called Bijnis Woman. Chandra recounts delicious tales as originally narrated by her mausis, buas and chachas and paints the longings, un-relinquished desires and the many vulnerabilities of the seemingly ‘aam’ janta across the canvas of Uttar Pradesh.

In narrating these tales, she’s also seeking to preserve the last vestiges of an oral tradition handed down to her.

On 7 May 2017, Chandra launched her book at the Title Waves bookstore in Bandra, Mumbai. There was an attempt to recreate the atmosphere in which these qissas or kahaanis were first narrated to her.

Tanuja Chandra with Rajkumar Hirani at the launch of her book, Bijnis Woman, in Mumbai. Image via Facebook

Tanuja Chandra with Rajkumar Hirani at the launch of her book, Bijnis Woman, in Mumbai. Image via Facebook

Speaking later with Firstpost, Chandra said she chose this particular set of stories for her anthology as these were evergreen classics that have integrated themselves into her family’s consciousness.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been meaning to get down to writing these stories. If I didn’t do it, they’d be lost forever,” said Chandra, explaining what prompted her to write Bijnis Woman.

In doing so, she was conscious that as the narrator, she had taken on an all-too-important task (of telling the story) in her hands. It wasn’t just about reproducing what she remembered hearing. “The writer and the story cannot be separated since the writer’s subconscious is coming into strong play while accessing his/her story,” she admitted.

The book is named after the last story in the anthology, of an enterprising bartanwaali, whose keen sense for business, captivating sales pitches and ethical deals have earned her a fan following in the eminent middle-class society of Lucknow. Chandra maintains that she chose to name her anthology after this story as it speaks of a resilient woman who does not give up. She says that Langhi, the protagonist, breathes fresh inspiration into the book and hers is perhaps the most liberating story within it.

In writing Bijnis Woman, Chandra is also making an effort to highlight stories of women, who she feels are an underrepresented demographic.

Chandra maintains that the stories in her book have occurred in simpler times, and without romanticising nostalgia she says that we’re now inhabiting an interesting paradox: Human beings are becoming increasingly distant in an age of multiplicity in communication devices. Yet, there exist mechanisms that allow for sharing of stories that can be accesses irrespective of geographic location. She feels “this exchange should amount to greater generosity”, wherein a difference in culture can be viewed with an open mind, devoid of tags such as “primitive” or “regressive” that emerge from an incomplete understanding (of cultures).

The language in which a story is originally told, derives much from the authentic flavour of the earth from which it emerges. Chandra says she tried to retain as much of this as was integral to her story, without creating a disruptive reading experience. In spite of never having lived in UP, she could adapt the stories as told to her by her extended family, since she managed to acquaint herself with the nuances of her environment without which she could not hope to invoke the confidence of the reader.

Now that Bijnis Woman has passed out of her hands, into those of her readers, Chandra has moved on to her next project. This is a novel, inspired by the stories (first-hand, this time) that have emerged out of her experiences. She presently awaits the release of her film, a “Hindustani romcom” featuring Irrfan Khan.

Updated Date: May 14, 2017 13:02 PM

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