Ruchira Gupta’s book River of Flesh and Other Stories – The Prostituted Woman Indian Short Fiction has stories on a single theme – women trafficking. The protagonist may be a prostitute, or someone from the society who’s influenced by the trade. The selected stories have been penned by some of India’s most progressive storytellers, likes of which includes Munshi Premchand, Amrita Pritam, Bibhutibhushan Bandyopadhyay, Saadat Hasan Manto, Subodh Ghosh, among others.

Translated from their vernacular forms, these stories make for a very arresting read, shaming not the prostitutes, but the many people who shame them. And though some of these stories were composed decades ago, it’s very saddening to see that their message stands relevant even in the present day and age. Kamala Das’s extremely moving tale A Doll for The Child Prostitute is the first of the collection, in which a small girl is raped by her stepfather and forced into prostitution.

river of flesh ruchira gupta

In Premchand’s masterful The Murder of Honor, a wife turns to prostitution in order to defame her husband. Manto’s powerful ‘The Hundred Candle Power Bulb’ has a protagonist who murders her pimp. Amrita Pritam’s The Shah’s Harlot makes for the closing tale, where a man’s mistress sings at his son’s wedding in the presence of his family, wife included. Ruchira using these very stories wanted the reader to reason whether prostitution is empowering or de-humanizing? Is prostitution really a woman’s livelihood choice? Through this book she’s giving out the message that how, by prostitution, we are further drifting away from women’s equality.

In the book’s introduction itself she’s mentioned a few ‘justifications’ she has come across for “why most women turn to prostitution?”, and in those justifications the reader can witness the convenience with which our exploitative society turns a blind eye on the role of men. The violence that has been described is cringe-worthy, and no man or woman should be subjected to such suffering ever in life. It’s not only cruel but also inhuman.

With these stories, Ruchira attempts to bring out the psyche of these women, and honestly it’s a very dark read. I never expected this book to tell me pleasant, soothing tales (surprisingly, there are a few instances, if you’re wondering), and also this concept has been exploited by Bollywood god-knows-how-many-times, but these stories manage to capture the depth that churns your gut so hard that you can taste bile all over your mouth.

Overall Rating: 4/5

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We received this copy through Flipkart’s Review Program.