IN her prefatory essay to The Washer of the Dead, Venita Coelho writes that “in the kernel of each of our lives lies the making of a ghost. Sleeping in each of us lies the void that they wander in, voiceless till we allow them to speak.” This explains why ghosts in her women-centred stories do not have horrid looks and terrifying shapes. They assume different forms, are tender, playful, and affectionate, provide comfort to the needy, and also act as vehicles of truth.
One such ghost loves Aminia, though she does not know it. When her husband beats her and locks her in, she enjoys happiness and comfort in its company. In Spirits of Silence, the husband of Najma invents a ghost to explain his wife’s voice, because wives have no voice in their society. When she is discovered, the husband is told to remarry. Enraged, she speaks to the voiceless women and is beheaded, but not before the women’s voice takes the shape of a turbulent wind. The wind punishes a man for not owning a woman and her child in another story. In “Kanikha,” a guilt-ridden mother sees the ghost of her son’s first wife in his second one, which eventually leads to the discovery of his murderous deed. In “Possession” a pliant woman turns into a soothsayer and a powerful voice for four days in a month. When she hears from her daughter that her father had raped her, she turns into an angry Devi to wreak vengeance on him.
The troubled lives of women are voiced through other mediums as well, like the woman who washes the dead. Except for two or three stories in the volume, which are too short, all others are quite powerful. Coelho writes well and lays bare the suffering of women by creating ghosts “that talk, tell tales, whisper reason.
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