An Unsuitable Woman (Shinie Antony) – Book Review

"If India is Bharat Mata, Mother India, an amalgamation of all feminine strengths from its history, depicted in various forms, often accompanied by a lion, painted by Abanindranath Tagore with four arms, mesmerizingly captured in Vande Mataram, and a war cry invoked by Indian soldiers, then keep her in the safe confines of an exhibition hall." - Josy Joseph


Book review - An Unsuitable Woman Shinie AntonyAuthors: Various (Compiled by: Shinie Antony)

Title: An unsuitable woman

ISBN: 9788129149206

Publisher: Rupa Publications

Genre: Fiction, Short stories, Anthology, Indian Fiction

Language: English


An Unsuitable Woman compiled by Shinie Antony is a collection of short stories, essays, poems exploring the lives of freethinking woman striving hard to find their place in a society where men decide their present and future.

The fact is, when it comes to demonstrating obedience to a woman, most men find it an unnatural, unnecessary, and unjustifiable experience, best avoided. For them, a woman who knows better, who is always right, who is their ‘superior’, is an unsuitable woman.

—G. Sampath, Bossy Pants

Growing up in India, I cannot help but agree with G. Sampath. In India, it’s hard to be a woman; no matter what you do, no matter which class of society you belong to, no matter which part of India you hail from.

Coming from the pens of several renowned Indian authors the narratives are all marvelous, invoking a strong feeling in the heart of the reader—a mix of strength and fear, empathy and repulsion, calmness and anger.

The preface introducing the book sums it up all as:

The unsuitability of the unsuitable woman is legend.
The unsuitability of the unsuitable woman is that she is a woman.
If she weren’t, she’d be a man, a suitable man.

What can I say, after reading the preface itself, I knew what I was getting myself into and what I had to expect from it. It was a ride of roller-coaster. That I would like to memorize for the strength it bears yet forget for the catastrophes it possesses. Because such tragedies inflicted on a woman is something that we must uproot from its core. Because we must never have the need of an unsuitable woman to stand alone against a massive horde of suitable men.

Being a fan of mythological fiction, I loved ‘Meenakshi’ a story by Anand Neelakantan based upon the aftermath of Ramayana. It forced me to think of this character Meenakshi (whose real name I will not be telling) from the Mythological Epic in a very different way. What’s good and evil? Aren’t they the sides of the same coin? Aren’t they the victims of perspectives? What is good in the eyes of one, might be bad for another and vice versa. Who are we to judge?

I felt devastated, shaken, sad, and enraged after reading ‘The woman with no breasts’ by Manu S. Pillai. Although, the authenticity of the folk tale upon which this story is based is not established by the historians it does depict one sad social evil—caste based ‘breast tax’. I can’t even imagine the life of a common, poor woman belonging to a low caste in those times, in those areas. While we’re still fighting for equality in terms of religion, caste, and gender, it’s rather sad to say that things may seem to improve on a superficial level, deep down it’s all the same. Little girls of ages varying between few months to years are being raped, while rape victims from higher age are being blamed for inciting their own rape. How sad a picture is this?

‘Jamal’s Jaan’ by Humra Quraishi is another piece depicting how cruel the conditions for woman are, particularly those belonging to a religion in minority, or a lower caste for that matter.

I could go on and on, tell you all that I have felt and witnessed through this book, but that wouldn’t be a justice to the greatness of this compilation. I would simply say that you must experience it all by yourself. Take a plunge into the world of an unruly, defiant woman.