2012 saw some unforgettable women characters. Smart, compassionate, troubled, psychopathic — one quality that connected many female characters this year was their strength. Here are some unforgettable ladies from the world of fiction.
Gogu Shyamala’s Father May Be An Elephant, And Mother May Only Be A Small Basket
Dalit feminist and Telengana activist Gogu Shyamala’s short stories were all poignant and memorable, but one character stood out: Syamamma. Born into a Dalit family in rural India, Syamamma’s life is marked by challenges, not the least of which is the practice of making Dalit girls ‘joginis’ (which means she’s available for sexual exploitation by all the upper caste men in the village). The short story ‘Raw Wound’, based on Shyamala’s own life, is about how Syamamma escapes this fate. She, like Shyamala, is a champion. Insert roaring applause here.
Ambai’s Fish In A Dwindling Lake
Most of us wouldn’t think getting an auto outside Bandra station could be fashioned into a remarkable story, but that’s because most of us aren’t Ambai. ‘Journey 7’, which is about an older woman, Mausiji, helping a young wife named Rupmati and her brood of children negotiate their way through Bandra station. Mausiji is such a refreshing alternative to the scheming, sniping and insecure older women we usually see in popular culture. Plus, as far as we are concerned, anyone who helps another get an auto is a hero who deserves all the adulation in the world.
Balaraba Ramat Yakubu’s Sin Is A Puppy That Follows You Home
She weeps, she’s melodramatic and for much of the novel, she’s worried about getting her daughter married. This doesn’t sound like the formula of a strong woman character but in the way Rabi carefully carves out an independent identity in the intensely-conservative Hausa society, she’s positively heroic. When Rabi is thrown out of her marital home (with her children), she sniffs and sobs but she also wastes no time in setting up her own business. Rabi’s story would probably feel far closer to many an Indian woman’s reality than the saas-bahu serials on television.
JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy
She’s hairy, dyslexic, awkward and she cuts herself. Basically, Sukhvinder is the kid in school that no one speaks to because it’s just more entertaining to make fun of them. Although she shows up late in the novel, Sukhvinder is ultimately one of the few people in Rowling’s Pagford who warms your heart. She’s doesn’t move past her insecurities magically, but she is strong enough to not lose sight of what she believes is right. In the end, when she organises the funeral for the misunderstood Krystal, Sukhvinder proves she has more integrity than almost anyone else in the novel. Brava!
China Mieville’s Railsea
One of her arms is a whirring mechanical contraption and all of her is geared to hunting a massive albino ‘moldywarpe’ (a giant mole). This may sound a bit ridiculous without context but in Railsea, a reimagining of Moby Dick, Captain Naphi is Mieville’s version of Captain Ahab and a fascinating character at that. Her determination to find the mole is fearsome. Her crew is both petrified and in absolute awe of her. You’d think a woman without all her limbs would seem handicapped, but not Naphi. It’s not often that a character is both menacing as well as reassuring — Naphi manages this balance and is someone no one would mess with. This is a woman we want by our side.
Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl
Move over Hannibal Lecter. A man eating our liver sounds far less scary than the psychopathic Amy Elliott Dunne whose ability to plot and pre-empt is horrifying. After all, with Lecter all you have to fear is death. Amy doesn’t let you off so easily. Dauntingly intelligent and cold-blooded, she will make her victim — her husband — suffer. Gone Girl isn’t really a horror story. It’s a novel about marriage and Amy is a chilling personification of that old saying, “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned.” Considering the horrible crimes against women being reported these days, there’s a politically incorrect side of us who takes great pleasure in these criminal husbands being saddled with a wife like Amy.
Jerry Pinto’s Em And The Big Hoom
From the very first moment that you meet Em, you fall in love with her. She is completely mad, which means she says delightful and often inappropriate things with glorious charm. It also means that she tries to kill herself, hurts those around her and is crucified by depression. Yet, even when she’s at her worst, when she’s curled into a miserable knot of delusions and suicidal urges, Em’s strength is remarkable. Her desperate urge to kill herself is matched only by her intense joie de vivre.
Manu Joseph’s The Illicit Happiness of Other People
It was the year of mad mothers, and Mariamma, who talks to walls and douses her alcoholic husband in order to wake him up, matches Em in both lunacy as well as charm. The Illicit Happiness of Other People is actually a father’s quest to unravel the mystery of his son’s suicide, but Mariamma is the parent who wins your heart. Haunted by the past, miserable in her present and yet full of humour, Mariamma’s determination to not let her difficult circumstances overwhelm her is fantastic. From taking advantage of the competition between local churches, using economic theory to discipline her son and thwacking a man who “eve-teases” a young woman, Mariamma is amazing..