When Devil Married God

When Devil Married God

no title has been provided for this book
Life is a balancing act and opposites do attract: Life and Death; God and Devil; Weak and Strong; Man and Woman; Wrong and Right; Black and White; and Day and Night. The conflict continues…... A just and placid world will be a boring one. So, we have the unjust and perturbed one… just to restore balance and make everything equal. However, equality is a cruel word. Ask the pans of a balancing scale; put Adam…

By the author’s own admission, “a just and placid world will be a boring one” – hence, When Devil Married God is an anthology of nine short stories that seek to redefine morality, justice, vengeance, love, lust and passion, against disparate backdrops and under different circumstances. The author, Shelly Sharma, is a prolific writer with an impressive repertoire of published work. The anthology seeks to bring this exposure and expertise to the table as she dives deep into the Indian heartland and comes up with nine stories, each a gem unto itself.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

The opening story is particularly interesting as it shares its title with the entire collection – When Devil Married God. With its sinister setting and haunting ambience, it sets the tone for what lies ahead. Its offbeat theme is further accentuated by its calculated focus on the plight of the much-maligned community of Devadasis. The story takes us through the gut-wrenching reality of these disadvantaged women who are forced to dedicate themselves to the service of the deity but in reality, are often forced into temple prostitution. The closing sentence of the narrative sends a chill down the reader’s spine.

In the second offering – The Queen of Mourning – the writer uses the decoy of storytelling to tear into some of the mindless practices and rituals that we follow under the garb of social obligation. The protagonist Sneha unwittingly falls prey to the pernicious grey zone that exists in every marriage –will Sneha be able to extricate herself or will she get further sucked into this quagmire? Reading the story, alone, can answer this query.  

My only gripe, in this story, was the heightened use of brackets and italics, and also similes, to a certain extent – this marginally hindered a smooth reading experience. 

The writer has made sure to incorporate an earthy, rustic flavour in many of the numbers here. Topping the list is The Witch of Mother Lake which revolves around the promiscuous lives of the villagers residing on the banks of Mother Lake. Their peculiar customs, unbridled libido, and stoical acceptance of their misfortunes hold a mirror to a part of society that most of us are not familiar with. A strong folklore element also marks this rather unique tale.

A somewhat similar premise and treatment is noticed in The Taming which has a picturesque Himalayan village as its setting.  This story successfully highlights the ruthless, patriarchal mindset prevalent in the Indian hinterland where women are treated merely as objects, meant to be ravished and then, cruelly discarded. The recurrent allusion to the Nirbhaya rape case makes for an even more hard-hitting, topical, and gut wrenching read. The re-telling of the denouement here, is a new and interesting feature. 

The theme of an insensitive, abusive patriarch is continued in the character of Kovind in The God That Failed. Kovind has been fleshed out so authentically that as a reader, we almost rejoice when he leaves, never to return again!

Shelly Sharma seems to have a penchant for creating strong female characters – be it Sneha, Lali, Ridhi or Palak – they seem to be crafted on real-life women who have suffered atrocities in this male-dominated society and yet, have dared to speak up and rebel. And sometimes, pay a price for it! However, the most compelling among them seems to be Parvati from The Legend of the Mangrove Jungle. “Life had taught Parvati to play with both fire and water. In right measurements they are capable of both genesis and nemesis” – powerful words that essentially sum up not only the protagonist’s credo but also teach us lasting life lessons.

Continuing in the same strain of emancipated women, the author tells us the story of Ritambari and her sexual frigidity in The Crescent and the Star. Ritambari speaks her mind clearly and honestly – her unapologetic, unabashed tone wins our heart, and we laud the author for treading this less travelled path.

However, the one story that touched me deeply was Measuring Pure Love, narrating the incomplete romance between the star-crossed lovers, Vani and Vidhu. The narration is taut and seamless; the storyline, both poignant and complex; and it manages to keep the twist under wraps, right till the end. 

Shelly Sharma relies a lot on the Show Don’t Tell method of narration – her writing is dotted with vivid imagery, simile and metaphor. Another recurrent motif is the use of very Indian expressions like ‘made the earth underneath his feet slip’ or ‘established her as a loose character’ and ‘it had now become a prestige issue’. They were probably written to help the Indian readers stay connected with their roots. Italics have been used generously in several stories.

If there’s any area of improvement that I need to suggest, it would be in the domain of editing. An additional round of scrupulous editing and proof reading would surely iron out the creases spotted in terms of spelling, subject and verb agreement, and punctuation.  

In conclusion, I would say, When Devil Married God boasts of a spontaneous style of writing and an eclectic mix of incidents that we probably see happening around us all the time, but fail to notice or observe closely. Shelly Sharma, through her discerning eye and deft quill, has given shape to many such occurrences which, put together, create an amazing potpourri of emotions and experiences that are bound to gratify the perspicacious reader.


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