Reading guide for The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff

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The Bandit Queens

A Novel

by Parini Shroff

The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff X
The Bandit Queens by Parini Shroff
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  • Published:
    Jan 2023, 352 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Ahima
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About this Book

Reading Guide Questions Print Excerpt

Please be aware that this discussion guide will contain spoilers!

  1. Discuss the title, "The Bandit Queens." How do you think it relates to the overall story? How does it apply to each of the characters in the book?
  2. India and the village Geeta lives in are intrinsic to the narrative. Discuss the ways in which the setting functions as a character in the novel and how each of the other characters relates to it.
  3. The caste system has existed in some form in India for at least 3,000 years. It is a complex social structure wherein social roles like one's profession and status became "hereditary," resulting in fixed hierarchies. Were you familiar with India's caste system before reading The Bandit Queens? In which ways did the pervasive societal structure appear within the novel? Are you familiar with any other caste systems across the globe? How are they like—and how do they differ from—India's caste system?
  4. In what ways does the past seem to control, or at least influence, the present in The Bandit Queens? How do the characters try to repress or escape the pain of their pasts?
  5. Discuss the significance of the following quote from the book:

    "It was, Geeta felt, just another example of women living within the spaces that others defined. Farah's words came back to her: They don't get to make all the choices. We get to make some, too. It was pretty but it wasn't true."

    In what ways are the women in the novel limited in their choices? Did you find that Geeta's view on the matter in the quote above evolved over the course of the story? How?
  6. What role does gossip play in the narrative? To what extent does it change the course of the characters' lives and help drive the plot within the story?
  7. The author infuses snark, wit, and humor into a devastating storyline about women wanting to escape their abusive marriages. Explore ways in which you use humor in your own life to deal with difficult situations. Do you find this method to be effective?
  8. How are female relationships depicted in The Bandit Queens? How does the novel play with and subvert female stereotypes and archetypes? How would you position Geeta in relation to contemporary feminist discourse?
  9. Love, family, friendship, and feminism are all major narrative themes. What other overarching ideas did you notice? What did you take away from reading the book overall?
  10. What did you think about the ending—were you satisfied or disappointed? How do you picture Geeta's life after the story closes?

Authentic Homemade Indian Chai

Serves 2

1⅓ cup water
⅔ cup milk
1-inch ginger, freshly grated (about 3 oz.) 3 tsp. tea leaves
2 tsp. sugar, adjust to taste
Chai masala spices (can be replaced with ½ tsp. prepared chai masala) 2 green cardamom (elaichi)
2 cloves (laung)
½-inch cinnamon (dalchini) 8 black peppercorns

Heat water in a pot on medium-high heat.

While water is heating, crush spices using a mortar and pestle or a coffee/spice grinder. Add the crushed spices to the water.

Grate the ginger directly into the pot of water. Reduce heat to medium and bring the water to a boil.

Add the tea leaves and let it boil for a minute. You can also add sugar at this time or add it in the cup when serving. Add milk and stir it in.

Bring the tea to a boil. The tea can overflow easily, so keep a close eye. Once the tea comes to a boil. Turn off the gas and cover with a lid for one minute. Strain the tea in a cup and enjoy!


Instant Pot Khichdi - Geeta's Favorite Childhood Comfort Food

Serves 4

½ cup basmati rice washed (125 ml)
½ cup split yellow lentils (moong dal) washed (125 ml) 1 tbsp. ghee plus more for topping, or oil for vegan
1 tsp. cumin seeds (Jeera)
⅛ tsp. asafoetida (hing) optional, skip for gluten-free 4 cups water
1 tsp. salt adjust to taste
½ tsp. ground turmeric (haldi powder) Cilantro leaves chopped, to garnish

Add basmati rice and moong dal to a bowl and rinse with water a few times till the water runs clear.

Heat the instant pot in sauté mode and add ghee in it. Add cumin seeds and asafoetida.

When the cumin seeds start to sizzle, add rice, moong dal, and water. Add the salt and turmeric powder. Give it a stir. Then close lid with vent in sealing position.

Change the instant pot setting to manual or pressure cook mode at high pressure for 6 minutes. When the instant pot beeps, let the pressure release naturally (NPR).

Khichdi is ready to serve. Serve in bowls topped with a dollop of ghee, along with a side of papad and pickle.


The Legendary Phoolan Devi
Phoolan Devin was born to a low-caste household in 1963 in a village on the banks of the sacred Yamuna River in the vast north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

At the age of 10, in what would be the first of her many acts of protest, she confronted her cousin, a man in his twenties, for fraudulently stealing her family's land. He beat her unconscious with a brick.

When she was 11, Phoolan's family married her to an older man. After being abused by her husband for several years, she managed to escape him and fall into the company of a gang of bandits. Devi participated in gang activities until she was kidnapped and taken to Behmai where she was repeatedly tormented and publicly humiliated over the course of three weeks. She was 17 years old.

In 1981, several months after her escape from Behmai, Phoolan and her new gang returned to the village of Behmai to seek revenge. She demanded that her tormentors be produced before her, but the two men could not be found. She rounded up 22 young men from the village and ordered them killed. The massacre sparked outrage and Devi became the most wanted person in India, with a $10,000 price on her head.

In 1983, Devi surrendered to the Indian government (then under Prime Minister Indira Ghandi) and was accused of 48 criminal offenses. She was imprisoned for 11 years until she was pardoned in 1994 at age 31.

Devi became a female rights activist and was elected a member of India's Parliament from 1996 to 1999—the first low-caste woman to hold that distinction.

On July 25, 2001, Phoolan Devi was assassinated by three masked shooters outside of her Delhi home. She was rushed to a hospital where she was declared dead.

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Ballantine Books. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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