Shobha Rao’s Unrestored Woman is a collection of short loosely interlinked stories first published by Virago Press and released in the Indian subcontinent by Hachette. The stories are classic in structure but the plot and treatment fairly unconventional. There are a range of stories inevitably dealing with Indian subcontinent during British Raj or at the time of Partition. With a South Asian name one approaches the collection assuming it would be of a particular style only to discover the writing is very modernist — bold, sharp, exploratory. It is no wonder then that T. C. Boyle included “Kavitha and Mustafa” in his anthology of Best of Ameican Fiction 2015. Although Shobha Rao is a writer of promise Unrestored Woman will forever remain her unfinished canvas in her yet-to-come oeuvre. Her justifiable admiration for Ritu Menon and Kamla Bhasin’s seminal work on Partition Borders and Boundaries: Women in India’s Partition is very evident but it is preventing Shobha Rao from making her stories her own. Instead what comes through is the strong desire to assert her South Asian roots, her sensitivity to the issues and her attempt to engage with them but alas is unable to convey it with a passion. Aamer Hussein in his review of the book in The Independent is correct in saying that Shobha Rao is on “a firmer ground as a realist”. ( 6 March 2016 http://ind.pn/1sSJaWq )
Maybe the author is working on a full-length manuscript like a novel or historical fiction on women and Independence/ Partition of the subcontinent that will have more depth than the few sketches presented here. Having said that Shobha Rao is a writer to keep on one’s literary radar.
Shobha Rao An Unrestored Woman and other stories Virago Press, an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group, Hachette India, 2016. Pb. pp. 244. Rs. 399
3 June 2016