Moom by Bani Basu – Translated by Arunava Sinha

In a Marwari family in Calcutta, the last woman dies. But even after her death,
Savitri remains in the house, invisible yet constantly audible. Gradually, the
inmates begin to rely on Savitri’s voice to have their lives managed.

One day, Savitri falls silent. Soon afterwards, Moom, a young girl of 11 or 12
mysteriously appears in Agarwal House. And her arrival reveals several secrets.

Ladki Dushman – this is the strong belief of the Agrawal family, who are businessmen from Rajasthan. Their family, over the generations, had only one son and remaining all daughters. Each daughter’s marriage expenses and dowry cost them a fortune leaving the families in deep financial crisis. Hridaynarayan now in his eighties, shifted to Calcutta in his younger days, for better business prospects. He now stays at home after handing over the business to his only son Jagadish, who lets life pass by without ever living it fully.

Savitri, his daughter-in-law, was the personification of patience as she managed the entire household without any complaint. One fine day, Savitri passes away unnaturally, leaving the two men clueless about how to go about. Such was the Agrawal households’ dependency on their bahu that they can’t even perform their daily chores.

Much to everyone’s shock, Savitri’s voice continues to be heard by the inmates – Hridaynarayan and Jagadish, their servants and even those who visit her room out of curiosity. Savitri’s voice manages the house indirectly as if she was alive and roaming around.

One day a young girl, Moom, hailing from Savitri’s hometown visits this house, and interestingly Savitri’s voice is no longer heard. Hridaynarayan slowly gets attached to Moom who brings new life to their lonely haweli. What made Moom come to this family all the way from Ajmer and the secret behind her relationship with this family forms the rest of the story.

Ladki Dushman is the underlying theme of the book as families dread having daughters, fearing the inevitable expenses they bring along. Though such families resented the idea of the enormous dowry, they would still demand the same from their daughters-in-law, hence continuing this chain.

Besides the dowry angle, the story also explores how women and their emotions are neglected even in wealthy households, as Savitri’s voice expresses her grief to Hridaynarayan, who never bothered to speak to Savitri or share her feelings while she was alive. Though there are hints galore on Moom’s mysterious arrival and the events leading to that, the reader would be so engrossed in the narration that the truth will only hit in the climax.

The servants of the haweli add humor to the narrative which gets grim at places. There are scenes where the story drags as Hridaynarayan reminisces about his daughters, whom he lost due to harassment and mistreatment by her in-laws.

The flawless translation while retaining the flavor of the original is commendable. The notion of women looked down as burden by families in certain societies may be an old one, but the unique spin woven by the author around this concept makes Moom a fascinating read.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐1/2

Book Name: Moom
Author: Bani Basu
Publisher: Bee Books
Book Type: Hardcover

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