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A handbook for my lover Rosalyn D’Mello

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I procured this book from a heap of books at my bibliophile friend’s house as I felt intrigued by the book’s title and devoured it in a day. This book, declared by the author herself, as not a work of pure fiction, explores the complexities of an unconventional relationship between a 23 year old writer and a photographer who is 30 years older than her. Rosalyn D’Mello is a Delhi based art writer and author of a blog titled Cartographic dyslexia. A Handbook for my lover is her first book which was published in 2015.

The idea to document her love life dawned on her, following a casual phone conversation with her lover about her past lovers. It took her 6 long years to write the book and in that process she ‘dissected’ and examined her lover and their relationship. To observe and to be the subject of observation at the same time is a pretty difficult task to accomplish. Rosalyn D’Mello is quite successful in that attempt. I am surprised and glad that a relationship could survive such close scrutiny and exposure. Her language is intense and arousing, resulting in the book being labelled as erotica. The author wonders why there are no specific descriptions of various positions that can be adopted for sleeping together, compared to innumerable positions described for sex. In the chapter ‘The Poetics of sleep’ , she provides a vivid and poetic description of various sleep patterns they adopt. I feel the author has done justice by using all the various possibilities of language and words to explore and document an important part of her life experience. She should be appreciated for taking the lead in the narrative as we seldom get to read about the intricacies of a relationship and its inherent intense physicality from a woman’s perspective. I loved this book for its absolute clarity, lucid language and candid approach in dealing with love, which is one of the most complex phenomenon experienced by human beings.

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Seeing like a feminist: Nivedita Menon

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This is a must-read-book for everyone, irrespective of whether they are feminists or not. Nivedita Menon is a well known feminist thinker and teaches political thought  at the International Studies School of Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. ‘Seeing like a feminist’, released in the year 2012, is a collection of essays on topics like family, body, desire, sexual violence, feminists and  women and victimisation of women. The extensive research that the author has done for this book is commendable. Nivedita Menon is easily able to articulate her thoughts and arguments which allows a reader to proceed without any hinderance or difficulty. Nivedita Menon is able to maintain a balance in her arguments even while taking a strong position. She has analysed the prevailing situations in our country, particularly in sex selection, abortion and assisted reproductive techniques, in an unbiased and unprejudiced way. The question whether the fetus inside  a mother’s womb or the mother herself has a right to decide about the fate of the fetus, has always haunted me, especially after coming to Genetics. This book has put an end to that debate in my mind. The writer, with her powerful arguments, has convinced me finally that “Children are seen in the abstract as national resources but concretely, under the present sexual division of labour, must be taken care of on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute basis by their mothers. Under such circumstances, I think the host body of the mother acquires the right to decide its fate.”

The Whole Shebang by Lalita Iyer

This book can be read in one go and hardly would take  an hour or two to complete. The book has a collection of essays written by Lalita Iyer on various interesting subjects in a woman’s life, ranging from menstruation to parenting. Her style of writing is simple and informal and this makes it easy for her writing to connect to a woman’s psyche. But the topics covered lacked novelty, at least as far as I was concerned. But reading  this book would help a young woman to feel at ease when dealing with the myriads of questions which pop up in her mind from time to time.

Fever dream: Samanta Schweblin

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I still do not know why I chose this book to read on a sleepless night, when I was struggling hard to cope with jet lag induced by recent transatlantic travel. When I reached page 5, I realised that it was a wrong decision to choose this book when I was all alone, fighting insomnia. But I felt like I was trapped into this book or rather I was jinxed. The book was so compelling that it was hard for me to put it down, but at the same time, it was so real, weird, creepy and scary that I was hesitant to continue reading it.

May be it could be the similarity in the topography that this book reminded me of Marquez, Borges and Rulfo, all at the same time. This is the first novel written by Samanta Schweblin, from Argentina, in Spanish and translated to English by Megan McDowell. Set in a rural village in Argentina, this novel is a conversation between Amanda and David about their experiences till that particular moment. The narration disregards the concept of time and space and is intricate enough to trap you in its web. As a medical professional, I felt this book could be about pesticide (organophosphorus)poisoning because all the symptoms described, including high fever, disorientation, inability too see clearly etc , experienced by the characters, could be explained by that.

Some books are like psychedelic drugs; they provide vivid experiences and prevent you from writing about them for fear of losing the intensity of that experience. This book is one of that kind which made me fall into a slumber with Amanda, where I was living my own dream of painting a van with Amanda, David, Nina and Carla amidst the soya plants and a well. Only when I woke up the next morning, did I realise that the picture I painted was unreal but the book I read about Amanda was real.

Book 24: Men explain things to me and other essays by Rebecca Solnit

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This book , by Rebecca Solnit, an American feminist writer, has seven essays, which deal with mansplaining, misogyny, patriarchy, class warfare and gender inequality.  ‘Mansplaining’ is a term used to denote a phenomenon in which, characteristically a  man, inspite of having limited knowledge of a subject, explains it to a woman in a patronising tone. Rebecca Solnit is credited with the invention of this terminology in her essay, ‘Men explain things to me’, which is the first essay in this collection.The author begins this essay on a lighter note, where she narrates her experience with an older man who had the audacity to explain to her about her own book! I am sure majority of women would be able to recollect at least one instance of mansplaining in their lives. Many a times I have had the fortune/misfortune of listening to older men(Of course, non- medicos) expound confidently about the nuances of medical science without giving me the consideration that I have invested half of my life time in studying medical science!

The author begins the second essay, ‘The Longest War’, stating the scary statistics of reported rape ( 1 every 6.2 minutes and one in five women being raped in her lifetime) in the Unites States. The author methodically examines, puts forth facts and brilliantly argues about the gender difference  which exists in perpetrators of violence. She writes, ‘Violence doesn’t have a race, a class, a religion, or a nationality, but it does have a gender’. One of my friends was under the false impression that rape incidents in USA would be much less because casual sex is available in plenty there! What she failed to realise is that, it is not due to scarcity of sex or supressed sexual need, that men end up raping women.(Or else,why does marital rape happen?) Rape, in reality, has got nothing to do with sex but is a despicable and violent display of power. So even if casual sex is freely accessible, men who are inherently violent and consider women as second class human beings, will end up forcing themselves on them, be it inside or outside a household. It was shocking to realise that, world wide, women between 15 and 44 years of age are more likely to die because of male violence than because of illnesses or traffic accidents. Rebecca Solnit points out the fact that more deaths have happened in USA due to violence on women  than terrorist attacks and no one declares a war on such valiant display of power. She concludes the chapter by praising Indians for staging large scale demonstrations in 2012 for  New Delhi rape case and there by projecting it a human rights issue rather than another stray event. (This is the only point on which I disagree with her!)

The third essay, ‘World collides in a luxury suite’, draws a parallel between the ‘stronger’ countries looting the weaker ones and stronger men ill treating women.  In the essay titled, “In praise of the threat’ she discusses what marriage equality really means. She asserts that it was the feminist movement which enabled same sex marriage become a reality by transforming a ‘hierarchical relationship into an egalitarian one’.

The fifth essay begins with the description of a painting by Ana Teresa Fernandez which portrays a woman hanging out laundry; a woman who exists and is obliterated at  the same time. The author intelligently uses this painting to talk about women who have been obliterated from family trees, denied family names and sidelined by patriarchy.

In her essay ‘Woolf’s darkness’, Rebecca Solnit writes about the writings and philosophy of Virginia Wolfe and how she has drawn inspiration from them to write. She contemplates about  the tyranny of the quantifiable , ‘where something that can be measured always takes precedence over what cannot’. I realised that the urge to acknowledge only things which can be quantified has in itself become an accepted way of our life and culture. ‘Wolfe gave us limitlessness, impossible to grasp, urgent to embrace, as fluid as water, as endless as desire, a compass by which to get lost’, she concludes.

The last essay is titled ‘Pandora’s box and the volunteer police force’. The author firmly believes that feminism has not lost its purpose and now has evolved into something wider, encompassing human rights , environmental rights and a deeper enquiry into men. She hopes that more men would read and understand feminism because it not only liberates women, but rather liberates everyone. History teaches us that ideas which create a revolution will never die even if the end point of a revolution is not seen in the immediate future.

Men, if time permits, please read this book; at least the title essay. You may get a better idea about what infuriates a woman.

And all women and people with ‘more interesting genders’ out there, grab hold of this book and relish every single word; you will not regret it.

Convinced that ‘Misogyny, like racism, can never be adequately addressed by its victims alone’,  I earnestly wish for a day when more men would not hesitate to identify themselves as feminists.