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Professor Nandini Sahu, internationally recognized for her poetry and her significant contribution to folklore and cultural studies, has released her first collection of short stories, Shedding the Metaphors. In her new collection of 12 short stories, Prof Sahu, acclaimed poet with eighteen published books, offers new critical insights into Indian society through her voice as one of the leading voices in contemporary Indian English Literature.
Shedding the Metaphors consists of twelve powerful short stories that captures the essence of Indian culture and life. There is a diversity and richness present in each of these twelve stories that relate to people who have been rendered powerless by the dominant forces. Using stories drawn from “people around me, or people I met far and near,” Professor Sahu presents a powerful portrait of modern dilemmas faced by people today. Furthermore, these stories are rendered autobiographical by the author, who imparts her subjectivity and her beliefs upon them. Stories such as ‘A very Different Love Story’, ‘The Elusive Orgasm’, ‘Being God’s Wife’, ‘Alternative Masculinity’, ‘The Wild Stream’ and ‘The Juvenile Love letter’ not only tells us complex stories of the modern contemporary society but also gives us an insight into the author’s ideologies.
By embracing inclusivity and accepting individuals and their experiences for who they are, Prof. Sahu rejects the layers of social and cultural identities that are enforced upon us. Taking pride in her Indian roots and tradition, Prof. Sahu calls herself as a “global and cosmopolitan citizen” and heralds a
“…new beginning, being inclusive, empathetic, universal, accepting, reconciling and persistent. At such a landmark, one stops misconstruing and misapprehending. Now life is about evasion of delusions and reception of the present time in its multiple shades… It’s the mode of nirvana, abyss, all-inclusive, nihilistic, irrationally-rational, non-judgemental, romantic… shedding the metaphors and shedding my Id, Ego and Superego, now I am the Brahma.”
Through the trajectory her characters, Professor Sahu explores myriad themes and delves into the depths of complex human emotions such as pain, guilt, loss, nostalgia, remorse, identity crisis, and sexuality. Her major preoccupation with the discourse of gender studies can be seen in her stories. While the stories ‘Shadow of a Shadow’ and ‘Alternative Masculinities’ challenge gender norms and reflect upon subaltern experiences; the story ‘That Elusive Orgasm’ explores the idea of female sexuality.
The story ‘Alternative Masculinity?’ is a strong response and almost a parody of some issues raised by scholars of masculinity studies. Drawing upon her personal experience Prof Sahu talks about a visit by her distant friends Dr. Harihar Panda and his wife Savita. Upon observing the power dynamics between the husband and wife, the author sympathizes with Harihar for being controlled by his wife. With the advent of second wave feminism, Masculinity Studies sought to give voice to men who have been trapped in socially constructed gender roles imposed by patriarchy. It is argued in masculinity studies that not all men have access to patriarchal privileges and authority. Aligning herself with the seemingly visible silent man controlled and even insulted by his wife, the author attempts to understand his mental conflicts and anguish. However, the shocking twist at the end of the story reveals how Harihar uses ‘silent demeanour’ to hide his actions of exploiting his wife for his material gains. The ‘meek’ victimised role that Harihar uses is a “win-win situation” for him as he is not only able to exploit his wife for property but is also able to gain sympathy from other people. Prof. Sahu’s honest narrative conveys the dangers of falling into stereotypes and exposing the hypocrisies and other models of masculinity that men use to oppress women.
A story about the struggles of homosexuals to navigate their identity in a society where heterosexuality is considered to be the norm, the story ‘Shadow of a Shadow’ challenges the concept of heterosexuality and gives voice to the marginal experiences of the queer. A beautiful story about two women, Savita and Ragini, coming to terms with their sexual orientation, it challenges longstanding stigmas associated with homosexuality and calls for critical reflection and a rethinking of patriarchal social structures. In telling the story of two characters who seek love and companionship in each other, the author highlights how sexuality is a social construct. A similar statement can be found in Michael Foucault’s History of Sexuality, where he writes that sexuality is not an inherent given held in check by power, but rather the outcome of historical circumstances.
In the story ‘That Elusive Orgasm’ Professor Sahu celebrates women sexuality and explores the dark recesses of female mind and what they perceive as orgasm and incest. The author shows the dangers of female repression through a psychological exploration into the character’s mind. A victim of patriarchal society and her parents, Jhumpa Chatterjee struggles to reconcile her hatred for her perpetrator with her desire for intimacy. Leaving the readers shocked with Jhumpa’s traumatic experiences and her subsequent choices, Sahu makes the reader re-examine traditional structures. The readers are left to speculate the extent to which Indian familial traditional values have been impacted by modernity. While Jhumpa’s choices may displease the reader, one does not judge the situation; rather, one sympathises and pities her. As Professor Sahu states that her characters are not bad because their actions are determined and shaped by their own circumstances. The story gives a glimpse into the traumatic mind of the victim who seeks security and solace in the very places where she endured her trauma.
Following the theme of providing a psychoanalytical insight into the minds of her female characters, Prof Sahu writes ‘The Wild Stream’ which depicts the story of a young girl Mami Pradhan’s quest for power and recognition. In a society where she is doubly marginalised due to the gender and class social structures, Mami begins to assert her identity only when a male politician uses her for his political campaign. In its powerful critique of politicians who exploit women’s issues to gain votes, the story highlights the psychological impacts of such exploitation on women.
In her memoir ‘Being God’s Wife’ dedicated to her father Lt. Shri Krishna Chandra Sahu, Professor Sahu recollects her childhood memories of her father from the perspective of her mother. The story beautifully illustrates the complex relationship between father and daughter, a story laced with love, anger, and regrets. In addition to this, Professor Sahu also gives a glimpse into covid-19 experiences through her two stories ‘Quarantined’ and ‘Post Quarantine’. In these stories, the nihilism, fear, and uncertainty of the 2020 global pandemic are well depicted and explored.
As a whole, Shedding the Metaphors is a wonderful collection of carefully crafted well-Knit stories that readers can relate to
Dr.Sneha Sawai is an Assistant Professor of English in Dyal Singh College, University of Delhi.

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