Book Review :: She: Ekla Cholo Re

She: Ekla Cholo ReShe: Ekla Cholo Re by Santosh Avvannavar
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

It's like 2.5.

This review was first published in The Hans India.

This is Kusum’s story as she works her way from being a man towards being accepted as a woman—a short glimpse into understanding gender issues

The insignia of normal

Set in 1990, Kolkata, ‘She: Ekla Cholo Re’ begins with Raj, a professor who meets Kusum on the highway and offers her a lift. Through Kusum's conversation over a long drive with the stranger, the authors, Dr Shayan Haq and Santosh Avvannavar have brought out the subtle feelings that Kusum undergoes from being born a man to transforming into a woman.

Kusum’s childhood is as clich├ęd as it gets. A misogynistic, stern father (a doctor) who believes in stereotypical traits for the genders—men should be ‘manly’ and assert aggressiveness and women must be gentle and docile. Anything otherwise, and he’d brand it as ‘abnormal’ and punish Kusum (the boy). Kusum’s mother is an emotionally and mentally abused woman, who accepts it all and keeps shush.

Contrary to general perception that transgenders lack romantic feelings, the book narrates Kusum’s love for a man and her struggles as she tries to maintain that relationship ultimately going for a sex change surgery to get the man’s family (and society) accept their relationship.

However, as it happens with such people, soon after the surgery the man dumps her citing status and acceptance as reasons. The reader feels for Kusum (not sympathy but empathy), which is the biggest win for the book.

It is Kolkata; there is Rabindranath Tagore, there is ‘sandesh’ and there are Bengali philosophers quoted to the maximum. The cultural setting could not have been more appropriate to keep the characters real and enjoyable. The writing is easy and has the requisite twists and turns to keep a reader hooked; the climax is where the crescendo reaches its all-time high and both the protagonists are in for a surprise.

Where the book fails is editing—it is very poorly edited making it difficult to want to read in spite of it being a mere 60 pages.

Gender Assignment Surgery (GAS) has been legally allowed in UK since 1967, in USA since 1972; Indian laws however, are silent on the issue (except for Kerala, of course). One of the first cases of GAS in India was in 2003. It is unclear whether a surgery of the magnitude portrayed in the story could have been possible in the India of 1990.

However, the timing of a book that talks of the issue is apt giving the LGBT community a hope that things can change for the better and stories such as these are acceptable and enjoyed by everyone.

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