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Bhairavi

The Runaway

Translated by Priyanka Sarkar

A still, dense, ancient forest. A dark cave deep within. And in it a woman-child whose beauty can move the most pious to sin. Who is she and why did she jump from a moving train to land in the biggest cremation ground teeming with Aghori Sadhus?

In this story spanning generations and redolent with Gothic imagery, Shivani urf Gaura Pant tells the story of a woman's life, her moral and mental strength and her resilience. She also examines the choices women have in her beautiful, descriptive prose. With an erudite foreword by her daughter and scholar, Mrinal Pande, and a preface by the translator, this book is Shivani for the 21st-century reader.

Sometimes, she follows the guru around the cremation grounds the whole night. Sometimes, she meditates in the temple, sits like a stone, without eating or drinking anything, as if the life force had gone out of her body.

Her night-long meditation reflected in her red eyes. Her chignon had come undone and her hair hung about her shoulders. She had trained her eye on a peepal tree, sitting quietly with an innocent smile on her face.

Gaura Pant, who was better known as Shivani, was a pioneer of women’s fiction in India. Her stories were serialised in Hindi magazines throughout the 60s and 70s. One of the most-loved Hindi authors of recent times, most of her corpus of work has not been translated to English. She was awarded the Padma Shri for her contribution to Hindi Literature in 1982.