Niyogi Reintroduces 2022 International Booker Prize Winner Geetanjali Shree’s Debut Novel ‘Mai: Silently Mother’

NEW DELHI: To celebrate the recognition given to acclaimed Hindi author Geetanjali Shree and translations by the International Booker Prize 2022, Niyogi Books has reintroduced her debut novel ‘Mai’, translated into English as ‘Mai: Silently Mother’ by Nita Kumar.

The novel offers insight into the three generations of women and men surrounding them in a middle-class family in northern India. Events revolve around protagonist Mai or mother, giving readers insight into relationship dynamics, patriarchy, societal bias, struggle, survival, and more. Since childhood, Sunaina, the narrator and also the daughter of the house, aspires to be different from her mother or Mai whom she perceives as weak, imprisoned, abused and repressed by her husband and in-laws.

The story begins with: We always knew Mom had a weak spine.

But, Rajjo, the mother, was not inherently an invertebrate creature as the author seemed to have suggested. Rajjo is what she is because she is part of a certain type of bourgeois and patriarchal family. This is not the problem of Indian women or mothers, and certainly not of “women”.

However, Mai presents us with a mother-heroine, like Sethe in Toni Morrison’s “Beloved” (1987), who can leave us wondering about the joys of motherhood and, in many ways, that of femininity.

Is the mother who always sacrifices herself as weak as we perceive her to be? Are women really caged or do they want to be caged themselves? The author asks several relevant questions against social stereotypes during this simple but devious novel.

The novel will provoke conflicting thoughts about social perception, family, relationships or hierarchy and give you a perspective you might never have imagined.

‘Mai: Silently Mother’ received the Sahitya Akademi Translation Prize in 2002. It was also shortlisted for the 2001 Crossword Book Award.

Irene B. Bowles