Tag: Feminist Literature

Wages of Love, by Kamala Das

“Like other women writers of my class, I am expected to tame my talent to suit the comfort of my family.”

rain-and-book-kamala-das-wages-of-love

I remember reading a poem by Kamala Das in school. It was part of the English literature syllabus. I had heard Kamala Das’ name whispered conspiratorially between my parents, but I never knew why. (I had also heard Arundhati Roy and Neena Gupta’s names mentioned in those very same tones, on different occasions). So when I found a poem by her, I was wildly curious. I hoped to find a glimpse into the adult world of literary gossip. I found nothing; I did not even like the poem very much. I was perhaps too young to appreciate Das’ direct way of expressing thoughts, being more used to as we were back then to rhyming poetry about sunflowers and daffodils and such.

When they saw me read a poem by Kamala Das, my parents casually remarked how she wasn’t very good. I was easily influenced (still am) and so I nodded my head in agreement. Similar casual (snide) remarks followed, with my mother going rather ad hominem and colouring Kamala Das as an example of what a writer – and more importantly, what a woman – must not be. I did not press for details, but I smelled a scandal.

Fast forward to a couple of years ago, when someone (who intensely dislikes me) read my blog and commented that I write like Madhavikutty (Das’ pen name). I felt proud, humbled, and insulted all at the same time! The childhood bias was still present, I suppose; however, being compared to a splendid writer such as herself did wonders for my ego, even though I knew I was nowhere near as good. The sad thing was, I had never read any of her works, apart from that one poem.

Fast forward again to last week, when Amazon Kindle decided to treat us all with some cash to buy any ebook of our choice. As to why I chose a Kamala Das book, I’ll never guess (given that I have several other books on my TBR, and hers is one name that never really crossed my mind), but that is, as you can see, what I chose. Sometimes, our instincts know.

Wages of Love is a collection of short stories, plays, poems and essays compiled by Suresh Kohli. It starts with the short piece “The Fair-Skinned Babu”, the story of a contract killer. Its ending gave me goosebumps. And with that, I was hooked. Das’ writing is as raw as it gets. Poignant and melancholy, set against a sepia tinted background. Stories such as Neipayasam will tug at your heartstrings and leave a cloud of sorrow over you. There are other stories and plays that question traditional notions of morality and holds a mirror over society’s rigid and frigid laws.

It’s the non-fiction section of the book that I absolutely loved above all else. If there’s one thing you must read, it is Das’ thoughts on religion. She wanted to get the fields “Religion” and “Caste” removed from all government forms, a view I completely agree with. Every time I go to a hospital, and their registration form has a “religion” field (most do), I make sure that my displeasure is obvious. Another essay worth noting is Shattering Misery’s Silence. It talks about how the matriarchal and matrilinear society of Kerala went on to become a patriarchal one, and how the bold women of previous centuries gave way to meek, submissive ones. She talks about how clothing is used to judge people. The slightly sardonic tone in which Das writes is quite gut wrenching.

“If wrappings of cloth can impart respectability, the most respectable persons are the Egyptian mummies, all wrapped in layers and layers of gauze.”

Finishing this book has filled me with a quiet restlessness. Why had I not read her books for so long? Why was I advised against reading her, when of all the writers I’ve read, she seems to be one of the fearless ones that need to be read. Yes, her work NEEDS to be mandatory reading. She spoke her mind; how many of us do? What holds us back?

For far too long, I have placed Sylvia Plath and Anais Nin on the pedestal of honest and bold writers. For far too long, I have revered Anita Nair’s skills as a writer. Today, I place Kamala Das on that pedestal. Or perhaps on an even higher one.

Amazon | Goodreads

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We Should All Be Feminists, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Twitter4838603I was ten years old w23301805hen one evening during dinner, I asked why was it that my mother ate after everyone else. Why was it that she did not eat with us? Why was it that when she did eat, no one asked her if she’d like more gravy, like she always asked us? Simple questions that only a ten year old could ask. My brother, then twenty three, responded with a smirk, “You sound like a feminist.” I asked him what that meant and he told me it was someone who asked such questions. A vague explanation, and a tone that taunted more than appreciated. My mother chimed in saying how feminism is wrong and shouldn’t have a place in the world, because it was a woman’s place to compromise, to see her family was well fed, with selfless devotion. It was a woman’s place to eat last.

I can’t say why but even at that age, this caused a lot of rage within me. This went beyond something I could accept or even comprehend or make peace with. But so much of social conditioning and internalizing goes on within that far too many times, I accepted certain injustices because I thought that was normal. That normal must not be questioned.

A couple of years ago, a good friend told me that while he respected women very much (I can say for a fact, he did, and more than most men I know) he wished women would just stay at home. He did not mean this in a sexist or malicious way; at least, that was not his intent. He said men with their fragile egos get only more riled up and feel threatened when women compete with them at the workplace. This leads them to turn more violent in order to keep women “in their rightful places”. In short, the way to curb sexual politics was to go back in time when men hunted and women cooked. Cos men, it seemed to my resigned friend, were reluctant to change.

We keep hearing about this: men and their fragile egos. Men almost seem proud of it. I don’t see why anything described as “fragile” should be cause for pride, but whatever. Around the same time as the above conversation happened, I came across the quote I’ve shared at the beginning of this post. And I thought, “Holy shit this is so true!” I did not know the quote was from a book. I had not even heard of Purple Hibiscus or Half of a Yellow Sun at the time, so even the author’s name did not ring a bell. I was just struck by the simple, stark truth of the statement. Which is of course why I still have that image on my phone, though I have changed three phones since I first saved it.

But enough about me. We should be talking about this wonderful book. Originally a Tedx talk given by Adichie, it was later published as a book. Short as it is, it covers all the right topics, and may I begin with this first:

“Some people ask, ‘Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?’ Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general – but to choose the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women. That the problem was not about being human, but specifically about being a female human. For centuries, the world divided human beings into two groups and then proceeded to exclude and oppress one group. It is only fair that the solution to the problem should acknowledge that. ‘Why does it have to be you as a woman? Why not you as a human being?’ This type of question is a way of silencing a person’s specific experiences. There are particular things that happen to me because I am a woman.”

The number of times I have had this argument (interestingly, almost always with other women who think feminism is something other than what it really is) has sapped me of all my energy. At this point, it’s like I’ve given up trying to explain to these women that standing up to that sexist boss is also feminism, standing up against the man who groped you on the street is also adding to the feminist dialogue. I mean, come ON! What is so difficult to understand?

As for the fragile egos, she says how men are pressurized into believing they have to be a certain way, and the stronger they’re told to be, the more “masculine”, the more pressure there is, and the weaker their ego becomes. Sad, really. Equality takes that pressure off of men. Equality means a happier world, just simply stated.

Adichie describes how she is never greeted by waiters at restaurants, but they always greet the man she is with. Something similar always happens to us at the supermarket. At the exit gate, quite a few guys rush to the Mr. imploring him to fill out credit card applications. They ignore me completely. Like I’m invisible. When I pointed this out to the Mr. one day, he asked, “Do you even want a credit card? I thought you hated credit cards.” I told him that was not the point. The point was, they assumed I need not be asked, cos as a “woman” what use would I have of anything like a credit card or money, when there’s clearly a man with me. Adichie says, “Does it occur to you to ask the waiter, ‘Why have you not greeted her?’ Men need to speak out in all of these ostensibly small situations. These are little things, but sometimes it is the little things that sting the most.”

Sometimes when I see anti-feminist slogans, I sulk for whole days. I slowly begin to understand why Sylvia Plath killed herself. I go through the same emotions – an intense desire to put my head in the oven. Then every once in a rare while, a Trudeau or an Adichie come along to lift up my spirits. Adichie says in the book that at first she believed her talk would not be appreciated, but the standing ovation she received gave her hope. Essays like this one give me hope. I wish it was longer. And I wish people who currently have no clue about feminism picked this up.

May we all read this book. May we all be feminists. 🙂

Goodreads | Amazon

 

Water, by Bapsi Sidhwa

I am not a movie buff. I am choosy about the films I watch and only very few times have I been cwater-bapsi-sidhwa-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-bookompletely enthralled by a film. Also, when I read a book, I don’t wish to see it as a film no matter how much I enjoy it (in fact, a lot of times, when a book I’ve loved is adapted into a film, I end up not watching it at all).

However, only twice in my life have I watched something on screen that made me think, “How I wish this were a book!” One of the times I wished this was when I watched Water. The poignant story and the breathtaking visuals affected me enough to leave me speechless. The book came out after the film. How often do you see the words “Based on the film by…” on a book’s cover?

Genre: Historical, Cultural, Indian, Feminist Literature, Literary

Summary: Set in 1930s, Water is the story of Chuyia, a girl who is widowed at the age of eight, and forced to live in an ashram for widows. Her head is shaved, she is only allowed to wear white saris, only certain kinds of foods are permitted, and she is not allowed to touch anyone or talk to anyone outside the ashram. With all her innocent curiosity, she questions why the widows must be forced to suffer so much. The more she questions, the more Shakuntala, an older widow in the ashram, begins to wonder why the holy scriptures were so against women, why a widow was considered to be a danger to society, a lustful creature that would lead good men astray. Meanwhile, Chuyia, and a beautiful young widow named Kalyani become good friends. Since the time Kalyani was a child (she was widowed very young, like Chuyia), the head of the ashram, Madhumati, had been sending her out to the houses of rich seths in the city as a prostitute. One day Kalyani and Chuiya meet Narayan, a young man who is a follower of Gandhi. He does not believe in the ill-treatment of widows and wishes to marry Kalyani. Fate, however, has other plans.

The reason why book lovers love to bitch about movies is simple: the movies always get something wrong. For a book lover, this is like a guilty pleasure – like there’s a secret between the author and the reader, which those who’ve only seen the movie will never know. In the case of Water, however, either because the book came after or because I saw the movie before reading the book, I was robbed of that experience. The book is fantastically written, but scenes from the film constantly interfered with what I was reading. Also, the film was woven around Chuyia, the eight year old widow, but the book was more about Kalyani – it’s the same story, but the book somehow leaned more towards Kalyani than Chuyia.

Overall, a heart-wrenching read. If you do get the chance though, watch the film it is based on too.

Goodreads | Amazon

Rating: 4/5

 

How To Be A Woman, by Caitlin Moran

A few years acaitlin-moran-howtobeawoman-sreesha-divakaran-rainandabookgo, my good friend, Caitlin Moran and I were discussing the possibility of me releasing a memoir. I asked her to ghost write it for me, which she did, but I received the shock of my life when the book came out – in her name.

I’ll wait for you to stop gasping about this betrayal. Shocking, right?

OK, no, that’s not true. You can all stop hating her for the betrayal that never happened.

Nor is she my friend *sobs* Why is life so unfair!

The thing is, this book could have been about me. No, I know what you’re thinking: that I say this about every book I read and I relate to every protagonist and antagonist there is in this world. But this is not like that. You see, everyone has this one thing about which they turn madly, passionately, near-fanatic. Nearly everyone. Some people blow themselves up for an imaginary fairy in the sky, some people get the Prime Minister’s name tattooed across their chest. For me, it is, and almost always has been, feminism.

Lately, I have been getting really pissed off with people, especially women, who have been declaring they are not feminists because of reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with feminism. There is a man whom I used to respect a lot (used to) who referred to feminism as “rebellion.” What was ironic was the context – it was mentioned a highly pro-women blog-post; so I assumed, like 50% of the population and numbnuts like Sarah Jessica Parker, this man had no idea what feminism was, because otherwise why would anyone be so self-contradictory in one breath?

Caitlin Moran touches upon the key issues women face daily, starting with sexism at the workplace – she mentions how it is so ingrained in our system, that sometimes we don’t even realize it – how women are constantly judged, in ways that men are not, about the clothes they wear, about their career choices, personal life or almost literally everything. She talks about the question that only women are asked all the time, “When are you having kids?” To which she has an excellent response: “Batman doesn’t want a baby in order to feel he’s ‘done everything’. He’s just saved Gotham again! If this means that Batman must be a feminist role model above, say, Nicola Horlick, then so be it.” Caitlin has two children of her own. In this context, I have to add, I have been asked by several people why is it that I advocate that to have kids or not is a woman’s choice when I have a child of my own. I am also asked this illogical question, “Do you not want others to have what you have?” The answer to that is simple: How do you know what makes them happy? Who are you to decide and judge?

“Batman doesn’t have to put up with this shit-why should we?”

Yet another key issue she mentions is how clueless and ignorant (education, literacy, career status not withstanding) women (*cough* SarahJessicaParker *cough* KatyPerry *cough*) seem to be claiming they are not feminists; which is a question that has been plaguing me for a while. The only thing that I ever had in response to that was, “If it weren’t for feminism, you wouldn’t be offering your opinion right now, so go invest in a dictionary, you moron.” Of course, Caitlin puts my thoughts into much more funny, straightforward and eloquent words that sound somehow more polite than my brash ones:

“These days, however, I am much calmer – since I realised that it’s technically impossible for a woman to argue against feminism. Without feminism, you wouldn’t be allowed to have a debate on women’s place in society. You’d be too busy giving birth on the kitchen floor – biting down on a wooden spoon, so as not to disturb the men’s card game – before going back to quick-liming the dunny. This is why those female columnists in the Daily Mail – giving daily wail against feminism – amuse me. They paid you ÂŁ1,600 for that, dear, I think. And I bet it’s going in your bank account, and not your husband’s. The more women argue loudly, against feminism, the more they both prove it exists and that they enjoy its hard-won privileges. We need to reclaim the word ‘feminism’. We need the word ‘feminism’ back real bad. When statistics come in saying that only 29% of American women would describe themselves as feminist – and only 42% of British women – I used to think, What do you think feminism IS, ladies? What part of ‘liberation for women’ is not for you? Is it freedom to vote? The right not to be owned by the man you marry? The campaign for equal pay? ‘Vogue’ by Madonna? Jeans? Did all that good shit GET ON YOUR NERVES? What is feminism? Simply the belief that women should be as free as men, however nuts, dim, deluded, badly dressed, fat, receding, lazy and smug they might be. Are you a feminist? Hahaha. Of course you are.”

Really. It’s that simple. I wish I get to be “calmer” one day about all this like Caitlin says she now is. God knows I could use it! But until then, I can do two things: 1) Recommend this book to everyone – men and women – and tell them the would enjoy it – both the content and how funny it is 2) if anyone comes at me with ignorant and idiotic lectures against feminism, I will clobber them on the head with this very same book. I think Caitlin will not appreciate this second one, because she has repeatedly mentioned anger isn’t the answer – humour probably could be. Hence, I will leave you with one final quote from my new favourite book by my new favourite feminist role model, who sadly isn’t my new best friend:

“But as the years went on, I realised that what I really want to be, all told, is a human. Just a productive, honest, courteously treated human.”

Get it here: Amazon.

Immediately.

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

tina-fey-bossypants-sreesha-divakaran-rain-and-a-bookEveryone should head over to a bookstore (or Amazon) and get a copy of this book, like, right now.

I approach celebrity memoirs the same way I approach celebrity perfumes – by staying as far away from them as possible. Perhaps I am snooty when it comes to my literature and my fragrances, I don’t know. But I read a few excerpts of Tina Fey’s Bossypants on GR, and I just knew I had to read the whole thing. While we’re on the subject, may I add that I also got a copy of Mindy Kaling’s Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? Big changes in my life, who knows, I might step out and buy something from Lady Gaga’s range of perfumes. Holy hell, that’s adventurous!

This book will leave you in splits! I maintain a stoic expression when I read gore mysteries in public (I try really hard anyway). This is probably the only book I’ve read that’s from a genre on the other end of the line. I tried hard to maintain the same Master Shifu expression while reading Bossypants, but I have to say, it was really hard. People stared, I am not proud to say (ok, a little proud, on Tina Fey’s behalf) Here’s a bit from the first page:

If you’re a woman and you bought this book for practical tips on how to make it in a male-dominated workplace, here they are.

Perhaps you’re a parent and you bought this book to learn how to raise an achievement-oriented, drug-free, adult virgin. You’ll find that too.

Maybe you love Sarah Palin and you want to find reasons to hate me. We’ve got that!

Maybe it’s seventy years in the future and you found this book in a stack of junk being used to block the entrance of an abandoned Starbucks that is now a feeding station for the alien militia.

Here’s another bit that I really loved, but I must add it was mostly nervous laughter. Why, you ask? Because when I read it, I could picture my son in the scene and I just knew she was right.

Right now, my daughter’s not scared of my husband or me at all. I think it’s a problem. I was a freshman home from college the first time my dad said, “You’re going out at ten p.m.? I don’t think so,” and I just laughed and said, “It’s fine.” I feel like my daughter will be doing that to me by age six.

How can I give her what Don Fey gave me? The gift of anxiety.

This book covers the story of Tina Fey’s father (a formidable man, also, Don Fey in the above excerpt), her life at SNL, her husband’s fear of flying, her daughter, 30 rock, and a life filled with adventures and disasters. Her quirky, self-deprecatory humor makes this book one of the best I’ve read. There are jokes, there is feminism, there are parenting stories (along with a “prayer for my child” which was excellent (not in a serious and religious way))  there are stories of friendship; basically, I think Tina Fey is now one of my role models! I know I don’t go out of my way to read funny books, as you all probably know, but this is one book I would recommend to everyone.

Trivia: Bossypants won GR’s Readers’ Choice Award under the Humor category in the year it was released.

Get it here:

Amazon

(PS: If in Bangalore, you will find amazing discounts on this book at Blossoms Book House on Church Street. Just saying.

Ok, kinda pushing you really hard to go and buy it.

Just buy it, ok?)