So, ultimately, she – who had no name, no identity, no family, no city or village, no property or assets – had still retained a religion.
A woman arrives at an apartment at eleven o’clock at night. She lets herself in only to discover that none of the lights work. She showers and lies on the bed. The next day, the man who owns the flat calls twice.
The phone rang again. It was him. ‘Should I call your friend and tell her you’ve settled down?’
‘Please, no. There’s no need to tell her anything. I…I want to be lost to everyone forever. Just tell her I’ve arrived.’
He tells her she can stay as long as she likes.
The following day, the woman unpacks her few belongings. When she looks in the wardrobe she finds a pair of crumpled leopard print knickers. She examines them, discovers a white, mouldy stain inside them and then, feeling that they offer a presence in the flat, throws them back inside the wardrobe.
After meeting a man later that evening, she’s lying in bed when she realises her period has started. Not having a second pair of knickers with her, she decides to wear the leopard print ones, thinking that the sanitary towel will provide a layer between her skin and the mouldy stain on the knickers.
I slipped into the panty.
What I did not know was that I had actually stepped into a woman.
I stepped into her womanhood.
Her sexuality, her love.
I slipped into her desire, her sinful adultery, her humiliation and sorrow, her shame and loathing.[…]Although I do not admit that I fell asleep, it is undeniable that I was woken by a series of sounds in the room.
They were making out. Kissing. Fucking wildly. They were panting, but could not stop. Hours seemed to pass this way. They remained engaged in their sex – till I passed out.
I had not understood them that first night. I had opened my eyes at the sounds of passion and felt afraid – who were these people in the bedroom! But they weren’t in the room – they were on the wall.
The couple appear on the days she wears the leopard print knickers.
Panty is a fragmented tale of a woman unsure of her own identity. The chapters – which run in a seemingly random order (29, 15, 11…) – build a picture of a mother, a lover, a writer, an escapee but it’s impossible to pin down a true sense of this woman. She’s also waiting for surgery, for what we’re never told, but this adds to the sense of a shifting identity.
This is a bold book both in terms of the content, which caused a furore in the world of Bengali literature, and the enigmatic style and structure. I’m sure there are readers that would find this book infuriating but if you prefer your literature to be elusive, challenging and require some work to decipher what the writer’s intensions might be then Panty is a great and fascinating book.
Thanks to Tilted Axis Press for the review copy.