While reading I Exist. Therefore I Am, I had the sensation of being submerged. I felt trapped deep an endless sea, with no hope of seeing the surface. Author Shirani Rajapakse’s stories of women in modern India has the effect of burying all hope for these females, these second-class citizens. While it is an oppressing collection, it was clearly designed to be so; while its function is to expose and obliquely denounce, its variety does nothing but strengthen and reinforce its message.
Ms. Rajapakse leads off the collection with “Drink Your Milk and Go to Sleep,” and establishes right away the grisly and hopeless tenor of the series. A unfortunate woman has married into a family suffering from the superstitions typical of certain classes of Indian society. So her new family inevitably finds her culpable when she gives birth to female children. This young mother resorts to her only recourse after so many births of the wrong sex again and again. It’s shocking and horrifying.
“Shweta’s Journey” recounts a modern young woman’s descent into household servitude and enslavement at the hands of a purported religious leader. Her naïveté plunges her into this self-obliterating hell; her fear for her life keeps her there.
Even women who have passed a long, satisfying life with family and spouse have an expiration date, apparently. In “Death Row,” Ms Rajapakse recounts the slow, tortuous journey to death of many older widows whose families no longer want them. It matches the bleakness of these women’s spirits with the bleak conditions in which they are forced to live out their days.
The title story features the plaints and exhortations of developing female fetus, and are thus simply inaudible. It echos the heartache of the first story and reflects the devastated lives of so many of India’s women.
Current cultural and religious conflicts have their airing here: young carefree women who have been kidnapped and subjugated into wives by Muslim men hold no hope of ever being rescued, and scant idea of even being missed. This sad state distills the sad theme of the collection into one brief story.
There are ghastly crimes in these pages; there are hopeless laments; each tells a different aspect of the complete pulverization of the female character in India. The author has followed up her award-winning poetry collection, “Chant of a Million Women” with an alarming and sensational collection of short fiction calling attention to the plight of women in India. Pick it up; prepare to be educated and appalled.